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Road (McCarthy)

The Road 
Cormac McCarthy, 2006
Knopf Doubleday
287 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307387899


Summary
Pulitizer Prize, 2007

A searing, postapocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece. A father and his son walk alone through burned America.

Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. They sky is dark.

Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearting, a cart of scavenged food-and each other.

The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, "each the other's world entire," are sustained by love.

Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio 
Birth—July 20, 1933
Where—Providence, Rhode Island, USA
Education—University of Tennessee, US Air Force
Awards— Ingram-Merrill Aware, 1959 and 1960; Faulkner
   Prize, 1965; Traveling Fellowship from American Academy
   of Arts and Letters, 1965; Guggenheim Fellowship, 1969;
   MacArthur Fellowship, 1981; National Book Award, 1992;
   National Book Critics Circle Award, 1992; James Tait Black
   Memorial Prize UK, 2006; Pulitzer Prize, 2007 for The Road.
Currently—lives in Tesuque, New Mexico (Santa Fe area)


Cormac McCarthy (born Charles McCarthy) is an American novelist and playwright. He has written ten novels, ranging from the Southern Gothic, western, and post-apocalyptic genres. He has also written plays and screenplays.

He received the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for The Road, and his 2005 novel No Country for Old Men was adapted as a 2007 film of the same name, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. He received a National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award for his 1992 novel, All the Pretty Horses.

His previous novel, Blood Meridian, (1985) was among Time Magazine's poll of  the best English-language books published between 1923 and 2005 and he placed joint runner-up in a poll taken in 2006 by the New York Times of the best American fiction published in the last 25 years.

Literary critic Harold Bloom named him as one of the four major American novelists of his time, along with Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon and Philip Roth.  In 2010 the London Times ranked The Road no.1 on its list of the 100 best fiction and non-fiction books of the past 10 years. He is frequently compared by modern reviewers to William Faulkner. 

Early years
McCarthy was born in Providence, Rhode Island on July 20, 1933, and moved with his family to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1937. He is the third of six children, with three sisters and two brothers. In Knoxville, he attended Knoxville Catholic High School. His father was a successful lawyer for the Tennessee Valley Authority from 1934 to 1967.

McCarthy entered the University of Tennessee in 1951-1952 and was a liberal arts major. In 1953, he joined the United States Air Force for four years, two of which he spent in Alaska, where he hosted a radio show. In 1957, he returned to the University of Tennessee. During this time in college, he published two stories in a student paper and won awards from the Ingram Merrill Foundation in 1959 and 1960. In 1961, he and fellow university student Lee Holleman were married and had their son Cullen. He left school without earning a degree and moved with his family to Chicago where he wrote his first novel. He returned to Sevier County, Tennessee, and his marriage to Lee Holleman ended.

Writing
McCarthy's first novel, The Orchard Keeper, was published by Random House in 1965. He decided to send the manuscript to Random House because "it was the only publisher [he] had heard of." At Random House, the manuscript found its way to Albert Erskine, who was William Faulkner's editor until Faulkner's death in 1962. Erskine continued to edit McCarthy for the next twenty years.

In the summer of 1965, using a Traveling Fellowship award from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, McCarthy shipped out aboard the liner Sylvania, hoping to visit Ireland. While on the ship, he met Anne DeLisle, who was working on the ship as a singer. In 1966, they were married in England. Also in 1966, McCarthy received a Rockefeller Foundation Grant, which he used to travel around Southern Europe before landing in Ibiza, where he wrote his second novel, Outer Dark. Afterward he returned to America with his wife, and Outer Dark was published in 1968 to generally favorable reviews.

In 1969, McCarthy and his wife moved to Louisville, Tennessee, and purchased a barn, which McCarthy renovated, even doing the stonework himself. Here he wrote his next book, Child of God, based on actual events. Child of God was published in 1973. Like Outer Dark before it, Child of God was set in southern Appalachia. In 1976, McCarthy separated from Anne DeLisle and moved to El Paso, Texas. In 1979, his novel Suttree, which he had been writing on and off for twenty years, was finally published.

Supporting himself with the money from his 1981 MacArthur Fellowship, he wrote his next novel, Blood Meridian, which was published in 1985. The book has grown appreciably in stature in literary circles. In a 2006 poll of authors and publishers conducted by The New York Times Magazine to list the greatest American novels of the previous quarter-century, Blood Meridian placed third, behind only Toni Morrison's Beloved and Don DeLillo's Underworld.

McCarthy finally received widespread recognition in 1992 with the publication of All the Pretty Horses, which won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was followed by The Crossing and Cities of the Plain, completing a Western trilogy. In the midst of this trilogy came The Stonemason, McCarthy's second dramatic work. He had previously written a film for PBS in the 1970s, The Gardener's Son.

McCarthy's next book, 2005's No Country for Old Men, stayed with the western setting and themes, yet moved to a more contemporary period. It was adapted into a film of the same name by the Coen Brothers, winning four Academy Awards and more than 75 film awards globally. McCarthy's latest book, The Road, was published in 2006 and won international acclaim and the Pulitzer Prize for literature. A film adaptation starring Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee was released on November 25, 2009. Also in 2006, McCarthy published a play entitled The Sunset Limited.

Extras
• According to Wired magazine in December, 2009, McCarthy's Olivetti Lettera 32 typewriter was put up for auction at Christie's. The Olivetti Lettera 32 has been in his care for 46 years, since 1963. He picked up the used machine for $50 from a pawn shop in Knoxville, Tennessee. McCarthy reckons he has typed around five million words on the machine, and maintenance consisted of “blowing out the dust with a service station hose”. The typewriter was auctioned on Friday, December 4 and the auction house, Christie’s, estimated it would fetch between $15,000 and $20,000; it sold for $254,500. The Olivetti’s replacement for McCarthy to use is another Olivetti, bought by McCarthy’s friend John Miller for $11. The proceeds of the auction are to be donated to the Santa Fe Institute, a nonprofit interdisciplinary scientific research organization.

• McCarthy now lives in the Tesuque, New Mexico, area, north of Santa Fe, with his wife, Jennifer Winkley, and their son, John. He guards his privacy. In one of his few interviews (with The New York Times), McCarthy reveals that he is not a fan of authors who do not "deal with issues of life and death," citing Henry James and Marcel Proust as examples. "I don't understand them," he said. "To me, that's not literature. A lot of writers who are considered good I consider strange." McCarthy remains active in the academic community of Santa Fe and spends much of his time at the Santa Fe Institute, which was founded by his friend, physicist Murray Gell-Mann.

• Talk show host Oprah Winfrey chose McCarthy's 2006 novel The Road as the April 2007 selection for her Book Club. As a result, McCarthy agreed to his first television interview, which aired on The Oprah Winfrey Show on June 5, 2007. The interview took place in the library of the Santa Fe Institute; McCarthy told Winfrey that he does not know any writers and much prefers the company of scientists.

• During the interview he related several stories illustrating the degree of outright poverty he has endured at times during his career as a writer. He also spoke about the experience of fathering a child at an advanced age, and how his now-eight-year-old son was the inspiration for The Road. Cormac noted to Oprah that he prefers "simple declarative sentences" and that he uses capital letters, periods, an occasional comma, a colon for setting off a list, but "never a semicolon." He does not use quotation marks for dialogue and believes there is no reason to "block the page up with weird little marks." (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews 
This is an exquisitely bleak incantation — pure poetic brimstone. Mr. McCarthy has summoned his fiercest visions to invoke the devastation. He gives voice to the unspeakable in a terse cautionary tale that is too potent to be numbing, despite the stupefying ravages it describes. Mr. McCarthy brings an almost biblical fury as he bears witness to sights man was never meant to see.
Janet Maslin - New York Times


The Road is a dynamic tale, offered in the often exalted prose that is McCarthy's signature, but this time in restrained doses—short, vivid sentences, episodes only a few paragraphs or a few lines long…the most readable of his works, and consistently brilliant in its imagining of the posthumous condition of nature and civilization—"the frailty of everything revealed at last. Old and troubling issues resolved into nothingness and night."
William Kennedy - The New York Times Book Review


In Cormac McCarthy's new novel, The Road, the bloodbath is finally complete. The violence that animated his great Western novels has been superseded by a flash of nuclear annihilation, which also blasts away some of what we expect from the reclusive author's work. With this apocalyptic tale, McCarthy has moved into the allegorical realm of Samuel Beckett and José Saramago — and, weirdly, George Romero [Night of the Living Dead].
Ron Charles - The Washington Post


(Audio version.) McCarthy's latest novel, a frightening apocalyptic vision, is narrated by a nameless man, one of the few survivors of an unspecified civilization-ending catastrophe. He and his young son are trekking along a treacherous highway, starving and freezing, trying to avoid roving cannibal armies. The tale, and their lives, are saved from teetering over the edge of bleakness thanks to the man's fierce belief that they are "the good guys" who are preserving the light of humanity. In this stark, effective production, Stechschulte gives the father an appropriately harsh, weary voice that sways little from its numbed register except to urge on the weakening boy or soothe his fears after an encounter with barbarians. When they uncover some vestige of the former world, the man recalls its vanished wonder with an aching nostalgia that makes the listener's heart swell. Stechschulte portrays the son with a mournful, slightly breathy tone that emphasizes the child's whininess, making him much less sympathetic than his resourceful father. With no music or effects interrupting Stechschulte's carefully measured pace and gruff, straightforward delivery, McCarthy's darkly poetic prose comes alive in a way that will transfix listeners.
Publishers Weekly


Winner of the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, McCarthy (All the Pretty Horses) here offers a prescient account of a man and his son trying to survive in a devastated country where food is scarce and everyone has become a scavenger. The term survival of the fittest rings true here—very few people remain, and friends are extinct. Essentially, this is a story about nature vs. nurture, commitment and promises, and though there aren't many characters, there is abundant life in the prose. We are reminded how McCarthy has mastered the world outside of our domestic and social circles, with each description reading as if he had pulled a scene from the landscape and pasted it in the book. He uses metaphors the way some writers use punctuation, sprinkling them about with an artist's eye, showing us that literature from the heart still exists. Recommended for all libraries. —Stephen Morrow, Columbus, OH
Library Journal


Even within the author's extraordinary body of work, this stands as a radical achievement, a novel that demands to be read and reread. McCarthy (No Country for Old Men, 2005, etc.) pushes his thematic obsessions to their extremes in a parable that reads like [George Romero's camp film] Night of the Living Dead as rewritten by Samuel Beckett. Where much of McCarthy's fiction has been set in the recent past of the South and West, here he conjures a nightmare of an indeterminate future. A great fire has left the country covered in layers of ash and littered with incinerated corpses. Foraging through the wasteland are a father and son, neither named (though the son calls the father "Papa"). The father dimly remembers the world as it was and occasionally dreams of it. The son was born on the cusp of whatever has happened—apocalypse? holocaust?—and has never known anything else. His mother committed suicide rather than face the unspeakable horror. As they scavenge for survival, they consider themselves the "good guys," carriers of the fire, while most of the few remaining survivors are "bad guys," cannibals who eat babies. In order to live, they must keep moving amid this shadowy landscape, in which ashes have all but obliterated the sun. In their encounters along their pilgrimage to the coast, where things might not be better but where they can go no further, the boy emerges as the novel's moral conscience. The relationship between father and son has a sweetness that represents all that's good in a universe where conventional notions of good and evil have been extinguished. Amid the bleakness of survival—through which those who wish they'd never been born struggle to persevere—there are glimmers of comedy in an encounter with an old man who plays the philosophical role of the Shakespearean fool. Though the sentences of McCarthy's recent work are shorter and simpler than they once were, his prose combines the cadence of prophecy with the indelible images of poetry. A novel of horrific beauty, where death is the only truth.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
Introduction: Set in the smoking ashes of a postapocalyptic America, Cormac McCarthy's The Road tells the story of a man and his son's journey toward the sea and an uncertain salvation. The world they pass through is a ghastly vision of scorched countryside and blasted cities "held by cores of blackened looters who tunneled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred and anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell" [p. 181]. It is a starved world, all plant and animal life dead or dying, some of the few human survivors even eating each other alive.

The father and son move through the ruins searching for food and shelter, trying to keep safe from murderous, roving bands. They have only a pistol to defend themselves, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.

Awesome in the totality of its vision, The Road is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

1. Cormac McCarthy has an unmistakable prose style. What do you see as the most distinctive features of that style? How is the writing in The Road in some ways more like poetry than narrative prose?

2. Why do you think McCarthy has chosen not to give his characters names? How do the generic labels of "the man" and "the boy" affect the way in which readers relate to them?

3. How is McCarthy able to make the postapocalyptic world of The Road seem so real and utterly terrifying? Which descriptive passages are especially vivid and visceral in their depiction of this blasted landscape? What do you find to be the most horrifying features of this world and the survivors who inhabit it?

4. McCarthy doesn't make explicit what kind of catastrophe has ruined the earth and destroyed human civilization, but what might be suggested by the many descriptions of a scorched landscape covered in ash? What is implied by the father's statement that "On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world" [p. 32]?

5. As the father is dying, he tells his son he must go on in order to "carry the fire." When the boy asks if the fire is real, the father says, "It's inside you. It was always there. I can see it" [p. 279]. What is this fire? Why is it so crucial that they not let it die?

6. McCarthy envisions a postapocalyptic world in which "murder was everywhere upon the land" and the earth would soon be "largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes" [p. 181]. How difficult or easy is it to imagine McCarthy's nightmare vision actually happening? Do you think people would likely behave as they do in the novel, under the same circumstances? Does it now seem that human civilization is headed toward such an end?

7. The man and the boy think of themselves as the "good guys." In what ways are they like and unlike the "bad guys" they encounter? What do you think McCarthy is suggesting in the scenes in which the boy begs his father to be merciful to the strangers they encounter on the road? How is the boy able to retain his compassion—to be, as one reviewer put it, "compassion incarnate"?

8. The sardonic blind man named Ely who the man and boy encounter on the road tells the father that "There is no God and we are his prophets" [p. 170]. What does he mean by this? Why does the father say about his son, later in the same conversation, "What if I said that he's a god?" [p. 172] Are we meant to see the son as a savior?

9. The Road takes the form of a classic journey story, a form that dates back to Homer's Odyssey. To what destination are the man and the boy journeying? In what sense are they "pilgrims"? What, if any, is the symbolic significance of their journey?

10. McCarthy's work often dramatizes the opposition between good and evil, with evil sometimes emerging triumphant. What does The Road ultimately suggest about good and evil? Which force seems to have greater power in the novel?

11. What makes the relationship between the boy and his father so powerful and poignant? What do they feel for each other? How do they maintain their affection for and faith in each other in such brutal conditions?

12. Why do you think McCarthy ends the novel with the image of trout in mountain streams before the end of the world: "In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery" [p. 287]. What is surprising about this ending? Does it provide closure, or does it prompt a rethinking of all that has come before? What does it suggest about what lies ahead?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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