Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I finally gave up on Cormac McCarthy's exercise in grand guignol, "The Road," a horror story cum fairy tale.

I got to Page 86 this time. To me, the book is self-indulgent, with nothing but pain and no reward for the reader. No valid theme that I could find.

Here are my notes:

Page 10 – Manipulative baloney: talking to God, telling the kid you remember what you want to forget and forget what you want to remember. Not true. The mind blanks out trauma.

Inflicting this much pain on the reader is misusing your power as a writer.

The father recalls his lovely bride and that makes him feel better. Nothing like a little co-dependence to gird up your loins. Hurray for neurosis. 

The lake memory with his father is great. Well written. The guy can write. He perverts his talent here, as he did for different purposes in "No Country For Old Men," a poorly plotted potboiler that made him a lot of money.

Page 27 – Sometimes Cormac indulges himself in terrible lines:

“Not all dying words are true and this blessing is no less real for being shorn of its ground.”

What the hell does that mean? It’s true even though it’s not true? 

Hemingway said you have to have a built-in crap detector to be a good writer. This is just the opposite. Cormac is not detecting it, he's shoveling it.

The whole book is self-indulgent. It isn't devoted to an objective truth, like “Suttree” and “Blood Meridian.” By that I mean it doesn't create a world that seems real, and that resembles our world, and it does not provide insights into human nature and into the world at large. In “The Road,” there is no insight. 

Page 60 -- The story is episodic. One melodrama after another. A bad guy grabs the boy and holds a knife to his throat. Why? Because Cormac so wishes.  Because the melodrama jacks us up. Oh, Lordy, reader, there are bad people out there.

We know, Cormac, we know.

This book is part poetry and part “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” And all bullshit, as far as I'm concerned. Obviously, it made me mad.

I think that as a writer you have an obligation to your readers, not to bullshit them, not to lie to them, not to create a meaningless world.

Some of the writing is good, of course. But the story is an elaborate exercise in nightmare. What is the point of all this horror? To torture the reader? 

As I said before, this is a kind of torture porn.

Where did they get the water to drink? Isn’t it all full of ash? How do they filter it? By magic, I guess.

Page 86 - I hate this book. An occasional good scene, and parts remind me of “Blood Meridian,” derivative, borrowing his own stuff. This is like a horror movie. Constant blood and gore. A relentless downer. Not what art should be about, I don’t think. Should be called “The Toad.”

The book has no sense of reward. It’s saying over and over, life is shit, you are shit, we’re all shit, we’re all going to die, and life is pointless.

I don’t see any point in reading this crap.

I wrote to my friend Joy -- I started reading it so we could talk about it -- and asked her if I could beg off. She let me off the hook. Thank God.


I skipped ahead to read the last few pages, where the father dies and the son finds new people to go on with. What bullshit. How convenient. How nice. Oh, goody, Cormac, there is a ray of hope.

At the very end, there is some kind of homage to nature. I guess this is Cormac’s self-indulgent way of warning us that we are destroying the environment. We knew that already, Cormac .

I’d say the purpose of this book is to transfer anxiety and pain from the writer to the reader.

No, thanks, Cormac. You can keep it.

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


Tim said...

You're missing the point, Roger. He's stripped down the world to one basic, primordial bond, father & son, surrounded by the most desolate landscape and dangerous world, in order to explore what it means to be human. Shorn of all the normal accoutrements of a life, of any hope for happiness, or for any continuation of normal family life, or society for that matter, the father's basic human impulse -- to protect his son -- makes him more and more an animal/a killer in the son's eyes. It makes the question the boy asks his father so chilling: "We're the good guys, right? Because we carry the fire?" And the boy must live on. The father has to realize he is going to die, his son is going to inherit this desolate world, it is the son who has to live on and learn how to carry the fire himself without losing his humanity. As we all must.

Roger R. Angle said...

I knew you'd have a different take. How delightful. I was hoping I would hear a dissenting voice. So did you like the book?

Roger R. Angle said...

I thought your response was very left-brain/analytical.
To me, the book was like sitting in a theater and having the actors throw urine on the audience.
It might be meaningful, in context, but it feels awful.
And there is no excuse for it.

Anonymous said...

This is from my friend Tim, who said it was OK to post it:

like? no.

I finished it on an airplane flying from chicago to san francisco across the great plains. i had a window seat, it was winter, and i'd look up from the book from time to time and see the vast frozen expanse of nothing way down below me. it was eerie.

i found it very difficult to read. but i also found it intellectually and emotionally challenging (not just one side of the brain engaged).

mccarthy can do what only the best of the best can -- he can bring you to a place you don't want to go, but give you a good reason to go there. i felt his struggle to articulate what is left of a human being when you take away everything sentimental from our conceptions of society, family, parent.

yes, it was dark. overwhelmingly so at times. but i feel i know more about life, people, myself for having taken the journey with him.

Roger R. Angle said...

Notice how I ignored Tim's insult, that I had missed the point. I'm a pretty easy going guy.

But I disagree that Cormac gives you "a good reason to go there," when he strips away almost all that is meaningful in life. Not good enough for me.

-- Roger