April 8, 2009

He hates quotation marks SO. BAD.

So, continuing on our “Things with two word titles that have to do with places for walking” theme week here at the blog (not actually a theme week) I think it’s about time that I talk about The Road by Cormac McCarthy, the latest book in my novels class. This book apparently got a Pulitzer Prize for some reason, and is going to be a movie in theaters in November. Both of those things actually make little sense to me. I think this book is going to translate pretty horribly to the screen without major edits, which of course will happen, and then it won’t be the same story. I also don’t think it’s crazy award-winning material. That said, it is a pretty darn good novel, and was worth my time to read.

The story itself is a post-apocalyptic setting. America is destroyed somehow. There’s ash in the air. Somehow. You never really find out what happened or anything, and frankly, that is just fine by me. Because although this seems like a book, at first, about surviving in this harsh climate, it’s totally not. It’s a book about a father and a son, and how they grow over the course of attempting to get to the ocean. I’m pro-character focus, so I was all about this.

The book makes some odd narrative choices. The main characters are only referred to as “the man” and “the boy,” giving the whole thing a very removed feeling. Also, for no apparent reason, the book refuses to use quotation marks. Most dialog is just a list of short sentences, back and forth between the boy and the man. It, I suppose, just shows how useless the quotation mark is in these situations, because it was only really confusing when there was dialog in the middle of a paragraph, and that happened rarely. However, at the same time, I have absolutely no idea WHY you would just leave out the quotation marks. Nothing was gained by the choice, as far as I could see. It was just made arbitrarily, or via extreme hatred of the punctuation mark. It was odd.

None of the action in the book is particularly surprising for the setting. They deal with finding food, being starving, having to deal with cannibals and road gangs and whatnot. Again, this is all just a setting to drive the character interaction. That’s where the real meat of the book is.
You’ve got the man, who is all alone with his son. His son is the only reason he’s fighting so hard, and doing so much to keep them alive. At the same time, he’s developed a horrible cough. He knows his days are extremely numbered. He’s unsure what he’s going to do, so he stays positive, lies, keeps pushing forward. What else can he do? Meanwhile, you have the son, who is becoming an adult. He’s no longer buying the man’s stories of how great the world used to be and how it will soon be that way. He’s seeing more and more horrible things as the book goes on, and he realizes how the world works. He isn’t sure he doesn’t want to just die. He isn’t sure he wants to push on. He’s looking for a reason to, much like how he is the reason the man pushes on.
You’ve got this constant back and forth of the boy looking for answers and the man not knowing how to deal with the fact that he has exactly zero answers. It’s a compelling bit of character interaction, and it’s basically the whole book, so it’s good that it is.

I’m going to talk about the ending now.
—This is the spoilarz line—

The ending is expected, but I don’t know if it’s particularly effective or not. It’s a questionable thing. The man dies. The boy meets a family on the road and joins them, living on. You can see this as a fairly positive thing. The boy finds something to live for, his dad’s memory, and finds the “more people” and a kid his age that he’s been wanting through the whole book. The man died, but accomplished his mission of sorts. At the same time, you could look at it as a failure. This new family is too good to be true, and appears at exactly the right time. The boy abandons much of what his father taught him when interacting with them, though he does follow a few rules. (Not letting them have the gun, for instance) Perhaps the man didn’t succeed to making the boy into a man after all. He’s still helpless and needs a guardian, and those guardians might be planning on doing bad things to him. I don’t know. Would it be better having left the story right when the man died, and not knowing what would have happened to the boy? I don’t know. I do hope Mr. McCarthy tried that way, though.

Anyway, this isn’t some life-changing piece of fiction, but it’s an extremely solid and entertaining piece of fiction. I have no trouble recommending it. Whether the extremely slow pace and subtle character interactions survive on the big screen, though, remains to be seen.

This sounds… interesting, actually. And the lack of quotation marks could have been one of those things where the author thinks it’s “artistic” and the rest of us think its silly.

Comment by Cris — April 8, 2009 @ 12:30 am

[…] is mostly due to it being based on a fine book, but it was also put together with love. I see that, back then, I was very doubtful that the movie […]

Pingback by The Blogtastic Blogfest That Is Getmeoutofthis.net! » Blog Archive » Now A Major Motion Picture Without Quotation Marks — June 12, 2010 @ 12:09 am

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