1. This book made me cry. You’ve heard of the iceberg technique of storytelling? The one Hemingway championed? This book is the textbook example of it. The father-son relationship, which is absolutely the axis on which the entire novel turns, is so full of raw emotion and undying love and unwavering loyalty that it brings me to tears. And not so much by what the father and son say, but rather by what they don’t say, and yet how clearly their emotions still resonate with the reader. I’d like to think that I’d behave like this dad if ever my son and I faced a situation this harrowing because, imperfect though the father might be, everything he does grows from his love of his boy. I admire that. And respect it deeply. There’s an iceberg of love inside many of us men, even if it’s not always immediately noticeable. This book expressed that truth beautifully.
2. Folks sometimes get hung up on McCarthy’s unique punctuation (or lack of punctuation) style. As though a writer of his abilities needs to resort to some stripped-down gimmick in some desperate attempt to garner attention. Okay, so maybe the no-quotation-marks thing isn’t for you, and I can respect that, but let’s be real here—McCarthy doesn’t need to use gimmicks of any kind. He’s a genius. And for me, the form of this novel is part of why it moved me so deeply. Each book is different, and each author must find the right voice, form, and style to express his or her ideas. In The Road (and other McCarthy books), his style reduces the distance between reader and character to the point where we can feel each one of the father’s labored respirations. Our throats tighten with emotion and fear as we swing wildly from one extreme emotion to another. There are no impediments to our readerly intimacy. Through his unique style, McCarthy establishes this link beautifully.
3. Lastly, I should mention that I read The Road several years ago and have not gone back to it yet. But doesn’t that illustrate just how powerfully it affected me? I’m writing about it now, and though I don’t have a Matt Damonesque Good Will Hunting memory, I can remember vividly several moments from the novel. I remember many exchanges between father and son. I remember ash coating the ground like a newly-fallen scrim of snow. And I remember two horrific moments that gave me nightmares and haunt me still—one relating to a campfire and another involving a horrible revelation in a basement.
And that’s where I’ll end. The Road, in my earnest opinion, is a horror novel. Many of you will disagree with this assessment, perhaps because you see horror as a genre populated merely by vampires, werewolves, and masked serial killers. And while horror can feature those tropes, it can also be lyrical, heartfelt, and as literary as any other genre. The Road, of course, is all of those things, and it’s damned frightening as well. Both in its plot and in its ramifications.
It also happens to be one of the most loving and life-affirming books I’ve ever read, and I can think of few tales that more deserve a five-star rating.