THE ROAD’S SUBTLE HORROR by Sidney Williams

The Road

Cormac McCarthy

Vintage

304 pages


Sometimes it is interesting to look at different perspectives of a given work or related works. In this case, we have a review by Sidney Williams of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the film version having been previously reviewed by Christine Purcell. What follows also helps define the lines between the printed work and the visual one.

(Warning: Contains mild spoilers)

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You might actually say Cormac McCarthy sets the framework for The Road in a sentence. The key sentence is the novel’s second, a fragment, in fact. “Nights and dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before.” That line makes clear the despair and bleakness and evokes mental images that stay throughout the novel.

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The threats the characters  face  are established in a confrontation scene when a grungy man, dubbed a “roadrat,”  grabs the son and presses a knife to his throat. A quick gunshot later, the father has killed predator. It’s tension filled, obviously the kind of assault the father has come to expect, and the world in which he is living has prepared him to cope with it. Ugly, unpleasant possibilities are the norm.

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What I think of as the basement scene conjures even more horror. It is perhaps one of the most frightening and unsettling scenes in any work of fiction. We learn that a roadside trap has been set for travelers, and enslaved in the basement of a house are victims, waiting to serve cannibalistic captors. A legless man, who has already suffered, is being kept alive as long as he is useful, and pleads for help. The father must hurry his son away, unable to offer rescue.

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These key scenes, woven into the fabric of the contemplative storyline, set the tone while never shifting emphasis from the key relationship between father and son. It’s deftly wrought horror.

It allows McCarthy to illustrate that the love between father and child functions in the horrific landscape in the same way it does in any environment, making for a compelling, universal meditation just as his Blood Meridian and No Country for Old Men offer up extreme violence in a contemplation of human evil.

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