you were to misspell “can’t” as “cant” and “don’t” as “dont” in a school
essay, then your teacher will give you a D minus. But when author Cormac
McCarthy did it in his novel The Road, they gave him a
Pulitzer Prize . . .
But that isn’t the most notable thing about McCarthy’s
2006 novel, The Road. Nor is it the fact that the 74-year-old
literary author is finally enjoying the sort of sales that “less literary”
best-selling authors such as Stephen King and Dan Brown take for granted
for the first time in his 43-year-long career. Nor is it that the normally
reclusive author actually made an appearance on the Oprah Show after
The Road was the April 2007 selection of her book club. Or the fact
that The Road is being made into a film
starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron and would be
the third McCarthy novel to be made into a movie (the others are All
the Pretty Horses, which were made into a movie by Billy Bob Thornton
in 2000 and No Country for Old Men in 2007 by the legendary Coen
Nope. None of the above. The most amazing thing about
The Road is how hard everybody is in denial about the fact that The
Road is actually gosh! gasp! a science fiction book! Yup, The Road
is a bona fide sci-fi novel. Its plot belongs to what must surely be the
oldest subgenre in science fiction, namely the post-apocalyptic story.
Just how old is it? Mary Shelley wrote one of the earliest examples of the
subgenre as long ago as 1826. The book was The Last Man and is
about a future 21st century world ravaged by the plague and, quite,
literally the last human survivor. Shelley wrote it eight years after she
Cormac McCarthy’s book is also set in a post-apocalyptic
21st century setting. In the near future a father and his son are trekking
on foot across a devastated American landscape towards the ocean where the
father hopes living conditions would be better. Unlike most science
fiction novels, The Road is vague on specific details. The
cataclysm that destroyed civilization and most of humanity is never
spelled out. Only a few clues allude that it was most probably a
full-scale nuclear war: there are practically no plant and animal life
except for some mushrooms and a dog the novel’s protagonists come across.
Most trees are dead and barren. It is overcast and bitterly cold and, most
tellingly, the landscape is covered in ash. At one point in the narrative
burning cities are also briefly mentioned.
It is several years down the line since the initial
cataclysm that brought humanity to its knees and things are markedly worse
than in your average Mad Max movie. Yeah,
not only aren’t there any cars around
not even your standard Road Warrior-customized dune buggy, but what is
left of humanity has descended into sheer barbarism. Cannibalism is rife
as lone bands of human survivors desperately scour the landscape for food.
Next: "The Road owes
more to the horror writings of Stephen King than, let’s say, Roger Zelazny.