This book won a Pulitzer. (That’s not why I loved it, I’m just letting you know.) After reading this book, I now know that imagery is very important if you want to win a Pulitzer… as a matter of fact, it appears that it if you have amazing imagery, you don’t really need anything else. I will discuss why plot is clearly not important in my post next week about why I hated The Road.
But that’s next week. This is a post about why I loved The Road, so we won’t get into silly, meaningless things like plot, character development and endings that don’t have Deus Ex Machina stamped all over it in 70 point font. We’re going to talk about art.
The Road has some of the most amazing imagery I’ve ever experienced. I say “experienced” because when imagery is done correctly, you live the book, you do not read the book. The imagery is introduced so effortlessly and succinctly that I didn’t even notice that I was surrounded by a world created by the author until I put the book down and I realized that remnants of that world were still floating around inside my head. It’s always cold in his world, so I turned on my heated blanket in the middle of the summer because I couldn’t seem to get warm (In fairness, I’m always cold, so that might not be book-related). There is very little food in his post-apocalyptic wasteland, and before I went to the grocery story, I actually thought that maybe I stock up on food because I was suddenly worried about running out. The weirdest one was that while I was reading the book and for about an hour afterward, I was worried about breathing the ash-laden air (BTW – extremely weird sensation considering the air in my house is just fine and dandy).
The book is immersive.
There have been so many books that I’ve read where the authors make valiant attempts to describe what’s in their head, but many times, the description is a slog. I can’t count the number of times I’ve encountered a giant block of text, skimmed through it and thought, “Good gravy, this whole thing describes the trees?” I mentally mark that paragraph [useless description] and skip to the next section that actually has bearing on the story. Because, bottom line? If I wanted to read someone waxing poetic about trees and birds and crap, I’d read poetry. I read novels because I want a neat story and if something doesn’t serve the story, who cares?
But Cormac McCarthy weaves the similes, metaphors and flowery thesaurus language into the story in order to communicate to the reader instead of interrupting the flow of the narrative to show off his mad adjective usage skills. You understand what it was like to live there. He doesn’t give you information that you don’t need. He gives you enough information to suck you in and make you feel the world and then he leaves it alone (except for the word gray, but that’s for next week’s post).
What he does in this book is incredibly difficult to do, and it’s why he won a Pulitzer. Using poetic language in a novel without halting the pacing or burdening the story is a feat in and of itself, but using the right poetic language to draw someone further into the world without causing them to go, “Ugh. More description of leaves. SKIP.” is sheer mastery.
That’s not to say that the book was not without it’s problems – as a matter of fact, I had SO much material for the “what I hated about The Road” section, it gets to have a post all to itself next week. But for this week, I’ll leave you with the final passage from The Road (no spoilers, I promise), which pretty much sums up why this book is a Pulitzer Prize winning book.
“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountain. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”