The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Publisher: Vintage Books
Original Publication: 2006, Alfred A. Knopf.

Movie Adaptations:
The Road (2009), Dir. John Hillcoat.


In the winter of 2009, I had watched a dramatic film set during a post-apocalyptic time where a father and son are traveling upon a road with the hopeful intention to discover a haven to live out the remainder of their days on earth. The film stars Viggo Mortensen as the father and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the son. Although the story moves at a slower pace than other films of recent years, a definable mood is overwhelmingly present within the film’s storytelling. After reading the book in which the movie is based upon, I have discovered the origin of the dark mood that surrounds the story of survival and last hope.

The Road is a dramatization written by Cormac McCarthy. His other written work has also been adapted into films such as No Country for Old Men and All the Pretty Horses. The prose that is written upon the page within his books is intentionally simple and, on several occasions, defies the basic grammatical rules of the English language. Why would “cant” be written without an apostrophe when “he’s” been written into the same paragraph and include one? This little bit of quirky behavior is rare treat for successfully published writers. The only other author with sense of writing style would be Hubert Selby, Jr. who holds the notorious style of substitution by placing the forward slash symbol (/) as the permanent replacement for an apostrophe in addition to ignoring the rules for other punctuation symbols. However, there is more to The Road than the petty nuance of the author’s style of writing.

The structure of the book does not completely stick to the traditional narrative of fiction storytelling. It strays from the traditional methods by describing brief moments in time that appear as fragmented memories. Two primary characters, a father and a son, are placed in the present tense of the story. Their daily travel down the road is written as a daily log of what they do and what they discover. The father recalls memories of their former life with his wife, but it is told in brief flashes of memory. Nothing is ever specifically referred to explain what happened to the world that would leave so many people wandering the Earth as vagrants.

Despite the lack of a traditional arc that would build an emotional and character development as the reader is accustomed to witnessing, there is an ongoing tension of survival for the two main characters. They must avoid the cannibals, find shelter from the rain in order to comfortably sleep every night, pillage for edible food and clean water as often as possible, and to grasp on to every ounce of hope that could be mustered up.

Only speaking on my own personal experience with reading the book it was more entertaining to watch the film adaptation than it was for me to read the book. In comparison between the book and the movie, there have been a couple of changes that I consider an improvement. The flashback scenes include more information about the mother. Why she was willing to abandon her family? The movie attempts to explain her reasoning behind the decision.

In addition, a few scenes from the book have been intentionally misplaced in the film’s timeline. The decision was clear to me that the movie wanted to build upon a growing tension within the character development and emotional story. Although the changes with the timeline are rather minor, in my opinion, the story draws a more satisfying development arc.

Cormac McCarthy interviewed by Oprah Winfrey; Summer 2008.

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