“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.”
The Pulitzer Project—until Monday, anyway—is officially halfway over.
Since 1918, 84 novels have won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize and, after reading Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant 2007 prize-winning masterpiece, The Road, I have read 42 of them. Joshua took March off to focus on the goings-on of his personal life and I slowed my reading pace down a bit to focus on my new job, my new relationship, my new life.
To get himself back into the swing of this project, he decided to read The Road; he had kept that one as his “ace up the sleeve,” so to speak—in the event that he needed to regain some momentum along this intense reading journey, he wanted to have The Road to be the novel that served as the catalyst to his inspiration refill. In my case, I wanted to read a novel that was celebratory of the official half-point milestone. A novel that chronicled a long, hard journey shared by two people seemed most befitting. It also helped Joshua and I to share a novel that we could discuss upon completion. So, The Road, all around, was the best choice.
It was also coincidental that I read most of The Road while sitting in traffic jams on I-90 West, on my ways to and from work.
Since we started this project, Joshua and I have been eagerly looking forward to reading The Road. We had both read and heard so many rave reviews of it and nearly every reputable source considers The Road to be Cormac McCarthy’s magnum opus. One of my friends, Jeremy—even when I had first started this project back in February—kept urging me to read it because he wanted to talk about it with me.
As it turned out, everyone was right—The Road is one of the most amazing novels I have ever read.
For those of you who haven’t heard about the novel or seen the movie, the basic premise is that a father and his son are walking a road to the Eastern seaboard in post-apocalyptic America. The landscape is barren, desolate, ashen. McCarthy never reveals what happened to create the apocalypse (which frustrated me throughout my reading), but that only adds to the suspense that he so masterfully weaves page after page.
Over the course of their journey, the father and son (whose names are also never revealed) encounter hardships, toils, and snares that bring them all the way to the brink of the most hellish existence. Among their obstacles are starvation, thieves, desperadoes, murderers, sickness, and even cannibals. Yes—cannibals.
These deterrents, though, weren’t the main focus of this novel. McCarthy wasn’t writing a sci-fi or horror novel; he didn’t intend for it to be an edge-of-your-seat, action packed page-turner as a means of pure entertainment. No, the focus of this novel was the relationship between a father and his son and the life-saving power of that bond. Their relationship was built on trust—it depended on trust. There were several scenes where the father told his son “stay here,” then explore an abandoned grocery store, or shipwreck, or house, to find supplies or food for survival. The boy had to trust that his father would return to keep him safe, and the father had to trust his son to stay put. And that trust is what kept them alive.
And so, despite the fact that McCarthy never divulges how the apocalypse began, the reader doesn’t really miss out on anything. Because the apocalypse wasn’t the point—the apocalypse was just the writer’s foil to keep the story moving along; as were the thieves, the starvation, the sicknesses, and the cannibals. The messages of love and trust and redemption were the points of the novel. Those were the messages McCarthy conveyed to the reader.
I do have but one small complaint, however. And, honestly, my complaint isn’t even that big of a deal.
Let me say this first: Cormac McCarthy is one of the best writers Joshua and I have encountered along this Pulitzer journey. His ability to tell a story, to write a sentence, to choose words to fit into a phrase is so phenomenal; his writing is truly breathtaking.
That being said, however, there are times when his writing is a little over the top. A little melodramatic. There were times (not many times—but, times) when I’d actually pull the book away after a paragraph of grandiose prose and sigh because it was all just a little too much. Like, “the silent sun circled the ashen earth like a mourning mother with a lamp” or “they huddled together on street curbs like failed sectarian suicides” (those aren’t the exact phrases, but they’re a lot like that). It reminded me of that movie, Bram Stoker’s Dracula—there’s a line in that movie where Count Dracula literally says, “I have crossed oceans of time to be with you.” There are just some times when a metaphor or a simile is so over the top that it’s almost comical. And, despite his prowess as a wonderful wordsmith, there are certainly brief occasions when even the great Cormac McCarthy falls victim to over-sentimentalism.
The Road was an absolutely amazing novel—certainly Top 5 Pulitzer-Winning Novels material. It is the sort of novel that (speaking of over-sentimentalism) makes you believe in the magic of storytelling. McCarthy is a master storyteller—he keeps you on the edge of your seat, keeps you turning the pages, keeps your interest and holds it captive for the duration of the novel. Page after page of heartbreak and turmoil and anguish and even still, McCarthy does not let you—not even for a moment—put the book down to breathe.
And this novel, at this time, has propelled Joshua and I to officially start “finishing up” this project. We’re halfway there, the end is in sight. We still have a long way to journey, but Cormac McCarthy has just given us a second wind to continue down “the road.”