Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


The Road by Cormac McCarthy




(Outstanding book-read it now)




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I’ll climb out on a shaky limb and predict that Cormac McCarthy’s new novel, The Road, will become a classic and will be called his masterpiece. Set in America after a worldwide calamity, probably a nuclear war, has destroyed most life, those humans still alive have either become cannibals or cling to some hope. The protagonists, an unnamed man and his young son, are traveling east, toward the sea. In this bleak setting, with ash covering the earth, and starving every day, hope endures. All of life boils down to this father’s love for his son, and the son’s love for his father. The son keeps asking for affirmation, “We’re the good guys, right?” The father always answers that they are the good guys; they carry the flame. Together, they hobble along in faith on The Road. McCarthy’s prose cries out for re-reading: always tight and perfect, as sparse as the landscape. I found I had to remember to breathe at times. Here’s an excerpt, pp. 26-29:


They camped against a boulder and he made a shelter of poles with the tarp. He got a fire going and they set about dragging up a great brushpile of wood to see them through the night. They’d piled a mat of dead hemlock boughs over the snow and they sat wrapped in their blankets watch­ing the fire and drinking the last of the cocoa scavenged weeks before. It was snowing again, soft flakes drifting down out of the blackness. He dozed in the wonderful warmth. The boy’s shadow crossed over him. Carrying an armload of wood. He watched him stoke the flames. God’s own firedrake. The sparks rushed upward and died in the star­less dark. Not all dying words are true and this blessing is no less real for being shorn of its ground.



He woke toward the morning with the fire down to coals and walked out to the road. Everything was alight. As if the lost sun were returning at last. The snow orange and quivering. A forest fire was making its way along the tinder­box ridges above them, flaring and shimmering against the overcast like the northern lights. Cold as it was he stood there a long time. The color of it moved something in him long forgotten. Make a list. Recite a litany. Remember.


It was colder. Nothing moved in that high world. A rich smell of woodsmoke hung over the road. He pushed the cart on through the snow. A few miles each day. He’d no notion how far the summit might be. They ate sparely and they were hungry all the time. He stood looking out over the country. A river far below. How far had they come?


In his dream she was sick and he cared for her. The dream bore the look of sacrifice but he thought differently. He did not take care of her and she died alone somewhere in the dark and there is no other dream nor other waking world and there is no other tale to tell.


On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world. Query: How does the never to be differ from what never was?



Dark of the invisible moon. The nights now only slightly less black. By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.


People sitting on the sidewalk in the dawn half immo­late and smoking in their clothes. Like failed sectarian sui­cides. Others would come to help them. Within a year there were fires on the ridges and deranged chanting. The screams of the murdered. By day the dead impaled on spikes along the road. What had they done? He thought that in the history of the world it might even be that there was more punishment than crime but he took small com­fort from it.


The air grew thin and he thought the summit could not be far. Perhaps tomorrow. Tomorrow came and went. It didn't snow again but the snow in the road was six inches deep and pushing the cart up those grades was exhausting work. He thought they would have to leave it. How much could they carry? He stood and looked out over the barren slopes. The ash fell on the snow till it was all but black.


At every curve it looked as though the pass lay just ahead and then one evening he stopped and looked all about and he recognized it. He unsnapped the throat of his parka and lowered the hood and stood listening. The wind in the dead black stands of hemlock. The empty parking lot at the overlook. The boy beside him. Where he’d stood once with his own father in a winter long ago. What is it, Papa? the boy said.

It’s the gap. This is it.


In the morning they pressed on. It was very cold. Toward the afternoon it began to snow again and they made camp early and crouched under the leanto of the tarp and watched the snow fall in the fire. By morning there was several inches of new snow on the ground but the snow had stopped and it was so quiet they could all but hear their hearts. He piled wood on the coals and fanned the fire to life and trudged out through the drifts to dig out the cart. He sorted through the cans and went back and they sat by the fire and ate the last of their crackers and a tin of sausage. In a pocket of his knapsack he’d found a last half packet of cocoa and he fixed it for the boy and then poured his own cup with hot water and sat blowing at the rim.

You promised not to do that, the boy said.


You know what, Papa.

He poured the hot water back into the pan and took the boy’s cup and poured some of the cocoa into his own and then handed it back.

I have to watch you all the time, the boy said.

I know.

If you break little promises you’ll break big ones. That’s what you said.

I know. But I wont.


When everything else falls away, there are just a few things that matter. In an age of terror, artists have been struggling to make sense of world after 9/11, or the Shoah, or the genocides in several countries. On the pages of The Road, McCarthy tells a memorable story of three things that last, no matter what: hope, love and faith, and the great of them all is love.


Steve Hopkins, November 20, 2006



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*    2006 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the December 2006 issue of Executive Times


URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/The Road.htm


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