Sometimes our title On the Shelf means a book that’s been out a while that I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t gotten around to it yet and sometimes the books we look at have literally been on my shelf for years. The Road is a novel that falls into the latter category.
Cormack McCarthy’s novel about a father and son trying to survive as they journey across a post-apocalyptic America is a poetic meditation on the things that drive us forward in life. What is the point of living when every day is a struggle to survive? When there is no end in sight to your suffering. Do we live just out of a fear of death, or do other things keep us moving forward? When beauty and laughter have gone from the world, what is it that sustains us.
I have absolutely no hesitation when I call The Road a masterpiece. McCarthy’s prose is beautiful and far surpasses anything I could produce. With every page, it earns its National Book Award. But having said all that, this book is not for everyone. It is set in an ambiguous, dark future time but it is not a dystopian novel. It features some very horrible things but it is not a horror story. No, if anything it is a coming of age story told from a father’s perspective. There is no central conflict, other than the battle to survive. Really, the true antagonist of the novel is the titular road itself. It seems to seem almost too on the nose to say that life is about the journey but the journey is going to be what kills you in the end. But just because something seems too easy or too obvious doesn’t make it any less a profound truth.
I very much enjoyed reading this novel. I probably won’t ever read it again. I can respect the craft and marvel at McCarthy’s talent, but at the end of the day, I prefer something a bit lighter with a more clearly defined central conflict. I think you will find that this is a book that people will either hail as a masterpiece or insist they just couldn’t get into and I think those are perfectly valid opinions to have. But if you are an avid reader, and why would you be here if you weren’t, then I would say The Road by Cormack McCarthy is definitely worthy of a look. I’m sure if you head to your local bookstore you can find a copy just waiting for you somewhere On the Shelf.