Why I Hated The Road

So this book won the Pulitzer (that’s not why I hated it, I’m just letting you know).  As I said last week in my post about why I loved The Road, I learned that books don’t have to have a plot that makes sense in order to win the Pulitzer.  Good to know.

But why should you care about my opinion?  I don’t have a Pulitzer.  Fair point.  If you read The Road and love love loved it and think Cormac McCarthy is the best thing to happen to literature since Hemingway had his first sip of hard liquor, you should maybe check out my sister post about how much I loved The Road or maybe a post with my cute cat or my silly vacation photos instead.  Because if you keep reading, you might be disappointed; I’ve probably missed the vast and important point that the book was trying to convey and am harping on “things that don’t matter”.

But they do matter… to me.

In my sister post about why I loved The Road, I wax (not very) poetic about Cormac’s use of imagery to enhance the book rather than holding the storyline hostage only to be released once the reader has slogged through pages upon pages of descriptive thesaurus word salad.  Yay for him.In fact, my only problem with the language of the book was the word gray.  Holy Moses, the gray.  It was everywhere!  Gray dusks, gray dawns, the meadowlands were stark and gray, the city outline stood in grayness.Those were all in one (very gray) paragraph.

I have never seen the word gray used so. many. times.  Holy crap, Cormac.  What color was the sky, again?  Was it gray? We get it.  Not green, not blue.  Gray. I don’t even care if it was a deliberate literary device to make the reader understand just how gray it was, it was annoying.

Fifty Shades of Gray and The Road by Cormac McCarthy

My next issue was the dialogue. Specifically, Cormac used dialogue without quotations marks or narrative description.  I would say that 90% of the time, it was clear who was speaking, which is a testament to how good of a writer he is – that’s hard to do.  But the other 10% of the time?

Sometimes one character said something that didn’t sound quite right and I started to wonder if I screwed up who was on which line, especially when I realized that sometimes there were line breaks but the conversation didn’t change sides. I didn’t even think this was allowed – writing conventions and whatnot, but again, it’s art. DO NOT QUESTION THE ART – if it doesn’t make sense it’s your fault – you lack vision, go back to watching Glee and Toddlers and Tiaras and leave the literature to people who desperately want to use words like symbolic and allegory regardless as to whether either one are applicable.

I could overlook the grayness and a little ambiguity – those only took me out of the story for a few moments here and there, but let’s talk about the ending for a moment.Ok, before we begin, be warnedspoiler alert carrots

Ok. You’ve been warned.

What the hell was up with the ending?  The father and son have been on this long adventure and have met no one except roving bands of cannibals who want to roast them and have them for supper.  Basically? Post-apocalyptic life blows – this came through loud and clear.  This poor kid has grown up with the knowledge that strangers want to eat him.  How’s that for a tough life lesson?

However, the thing about this kid is that he believes that all people are fundamentally good people did not learn the lesson.

At the end of the book, his dad dies.  Sad times.  Shortly after that, the kid meets a stranger who wants the boy to come with him.  The kid shoots the stranger just like his Dad told him agrees and goes with him. 

WHAT?!  In your short time on this planet, you’ve met no one except people that want to eat you, and then a shady stranger approaches you the first time you’re on your own, and you’re like, “Sure, Mister!  Got any candy in that van?” and then you hand him your gun. You. Are. An. Idiot.  Seriously. That is Bella-from-Twilight levels of stupid.

However, then the book got even more confusing for me, because although it was clear at this point that the man wanted to eat the child for supper and was lying to him to get him to come along quietly – especially when he says he has a wife and a son “about your age”. It seemed clear that this kid was toast, and yet the cover clearly says “A tale of survival” – it would be a pretty crappy tale of survival if both of the main characters died, but all signs pointed to the stranger being a dirty dirty cannibal.   

Except he wasn’t.  It would seem that even the author didn’t realize that this strange man was lying to the kid in order to cook him and eat him for dinner, because within a few pages, the man’s wife entered the picture and everyone in the book acts as though these people are actually telling the truth.

Recap.  Through the entire book they meet only people who want to roast them, season them, and eat them.  They even saw indications that people ATE BABIES - nothing is sacred.  But as soon as the father dies, a fully formed nuclear family pops up out of nowhere looking to adopt an orphan?  There is no food anywhere, everyone is starving, and yet a family with two children to feed is like, “Hey! Come along with us! We’ll be a family!”
All the reviews talked about how heartwarming the ending was and what a tale of hope and survival it was.  I suspect these people just skipped to the ending of the book, or perhaps they just missed the part where everyone in the book is either a cannibal or potential dinner. To be fair, it’s possible that Cormac is a victim of his own success.  Maybe he wanted to display that even in the darkest of times, the goodness of humanity will survive, but he shouldn’t have done such a good job setting up his cannibals and desolation.  By the time I finally got to the “goodness of humanity” bit, I was in full-on post-apocalypse mode, and I just didn’t believe it.Whenever I read a book with great potential but an epically stupid ending *cough* Cold Mountain *cough*, I like to mentally chop off the offending conclusion and draw my own. For this book, I, choose to believe that:1.) They ate him.  There’s no way around this.  If you live in Cormac’s sucky post-apocalyptic world, you’re either a people eater or a super tasty snack.

2). So they are cannibals, BUT the twist is that boy knew that they were going to eat him and he went with them anyway. He chose suicide by cannibal rather than live without his dad.  There was a running theme in the book surrounding the father and son’s codependency issues – both of them were all, “life isn’t worth living if you’re not alive too”. I can see this on the Dad’s part, but the Dad should have done a better job preparing the kid for life after he died, especially since it was pretty clear that he knew he was going to die soon – coughing up blood is not generally considered to be a sign of awesome health. Considering previous conversations about what they would do if the other died, and the fact that it was already established in the story that the kid wasn’t going to shoot himself if he got caught, suicide by cannibal is a fairly plausible ending.

Also, I hate seeing people that are painfully stupid in novels, so we’ll pretend like the kid isn’t a total bone head – his Dad just did a crappy job of raising him.  If that’s not true to life, I don’t know what is.

To be clear, I mean life in general not my life, because my Dad is awesome and would have taught the kid something useful – like how to not get eaten by cannibals two days after he dies.

One thought on “Why I Hated The Road

  1. Personlly, I loved The Road. That said, I can’t disagree with your post. It WAS an odd ending for such a dismal story. The cheerful, and conveniently religious couple DID rub me the wrong way. And with THAT said, I don’t think the happy ending appeared out of the blue. There were happy moments interespersed in the story. For example, the father had been telling this kid bed time stories where the two of them were heroes who saved people. The kid was actually suprised when his father not only found the man who stole thier wheelbarrow of supplies, but made the thief’s own situation worse.
    I don’t think a convenient happy family was the proper ending for this book, but I don’t think that the boy going off with a stranger was totally off the wall. Children of today are often told point blank not to talk to strangers, yet *they do it anyway.* He’s a child; he does childish things.
    Anyway, I much enjoyed your post, and shall continue doing as I have done: assuming that the boy ate the family, and then imagines them taking care of him to escape the horror of his bleak *grey* world.

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