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The Road
Cormac McCarthy
Knopf Doubleday, 304 pages

The Road
Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy was born in Rhode Island. He attended the University of Tennessee in the early 1950s, and joined the U.S. Air Force, serving four years, two of them stationed in Alaska. McCarthy then returned to the university, where he published in the student literary magazine and won the Ingram-Merrill Award for creative writing in 1959 and 1960. McCarthy next went to Chicago, where he worked as an auto mechanic while writing his first novel, The Orchard Keeper.

Cormac McCarthy Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Dan Shade

I love post-apocalyptic science fiction. I feel like Lee "Apollo" Adama yelling to the world "I love Kara Thrace (Starbuck)" on Battlestar Galactica in the episode "Unfinished Business" after Apollo and Starbuck have boxed until they can barely stand. But I do LOVE post-apocalyptic science fiction. It is my favorite sub-genre of the field. I love it for a number of reasons but mostly because the world is divided into two kinds of people. Those who fall to their lowest and those who pull themselves up out of the debris and find the best within themselves. In the movie Starman, staring Jeff Bridges, there is a point towards the end of the movie where the Starman is having a conversation with the character from SETI. The Starman asks if he can tell us something about ourselves. Then he says, "You are at your best, when things are at their worst." I have never forgotten that statement and it is mainly for this reason that I read so much post-apocalyptic science fiction. I am uplifted as I watch people overcome the odds. Yes, the amount of destruction and death is depressing but usually there is hope for a new tomorrow. Not so in The Road.

The Road, not published as science fiction but which should have been, is perhaps the most desperate post-apocalyptic science fiction I've ever seen or read. It's more like post-post-apocalyptic. Or even three "posts." Never have I read or seen a more hopeless struggle to survive. A father and his ten- or eleven-year-old son are trying to make their way south with hope that is it warmer there. Everywhere the sky is dark and gray, the sun never shows its face, it rains or snows constantly, there is always ash in the air and it's cold. Often the weather is freezing cold. Everything is gray as all living things, plants and animals, are dead. The forests are dead and, as the dead trees can find no nourishment, their roots lose hold and they fall in thunderous crashes. And unlike Kevin Costner in The Postman, they don't have a mule to smell the water and shake his head if it's not fit to drink.

Father and son push a grocery cart down abandoned highways and paths through the dead forests. The cart is hardly full. It contains a backpack of the boy's favorite personal items (a teddy-bear, a storybook or two), a little pack of extra clothes, and whatever food and water they have. And there we have their struggle to survive in a nutshell. They search everywhere for water, food, and clothes and blankets to keep warm. They strip the dead of everything useful but have never harmed the living. Under no circumstances has the love of a father for his son been so evident. He will do anything to ensure his son's survival including not eating himself when there is too little food or kill anyone who threatens his son's life. Yet they keep moving. Every house they search has been searched a hundred times before. Consequently they find little of help to them. Once the father manages to shake the last can of Coca-Cola out of a soda machine. The boy has never tasted a soda and this is a real experience. There is one occasion where they make an even greater find but I'll leave it up to you to discover what that is.

There are many threats to deal with on the road in addition to starvation and exposure to the cold. The worst would be cannibals. The cannibals seem to be doing fairly well for themselves. Yet, they don't look too well. In the film, The Book of Eli, you can spot a cannibal because after too much human meat they begin to have the shakes. I searched the web but was only able to find one reference to shaking as a side-effect of cannibalism. Mostly it is referred to a brain disease. One of the major reasons for cannibalism is starvation. Everybody is starving in The Road. I found another reasons for societies breakdown in Schweikart and Allen's A Patriot's History of the United States. They state that "without responsibility and virtue, freedom becomes a soggy anarchy, an incomplete licentiousness. (I have no page number to reference because I read that book on my Kindle which has no page numbers)." This seems to be a good explanation to me. The coming of the apocalypse in this book left only the responsibility of fending for oneself and a total anarchy. The people who attack the father and son are clearly of no virtue and licentious. Rape and murder are as rampant as is the cannibalism. I could give many examples but then you wouldn't need to read the book.

Father and son have few defenses besides their wits and their gun. There's trouble with the gun though that makes the story even more riveting. Imaging showing your ten-year-old son how to take his own life. There are guns everywhere and they are used with little thought. Of course if you don't have a gun, you might get by with a shovel or an axe in a surprise attack.

I strongly urge you to read this book. The father and son are well developed, believable characters whom I grew to love. I would like to call the father "friend" were he alive. The novel's suspense builds continuously throughout the book. There is a deadline for reaching the coast but I'll let you read it for yourself. The sorrow I felt at the sight of a child who has never known play or fun was palpable. A father so frenzied to ensure his son would survive was pathetic. The picture in my mind of our beautiful world in ruin and decay was heartbreaking. We are never told who was responsible for the holocaust but they need to suffer for what they did. Actually, they are probably already dead.

The Road was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a major motion picture. Read it and rent it, please.

Copyright © 2010 by Dan Shade

Dan Shade is a retired college professor who loves to read young adult science fiction, fantasy, and horror. But he doesn't draw the line there. He also enjoys writing science fiction and hopes to publish someday. In the meantime, you can find him at (under construction).

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