On the road

by Wolf Pascoe on July 18, 2011

If he is not the word of God God never spoke.
— The Road. Father, about his son.

on the roadI don’t believe I’ve ever cried over a book before.

Perhaps I have, and forgotten. Certainly I’ve been sad, but never like this. When this one was done I sat weeping uncontrollably for fifteen minutes. The kind of blowout cry a child has when the loss seems irreparable and there’s no one to turn to for comfort.

I was alone, but soon after saw Nora.

What’s wrong?

I finished the book.

Why do you read that?

It’s a question I asked myself several times along the way. For those who don’t know, The Road is Cormac McCarthy’s 2006, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a nameless man and his young son walking along a road. The earth has suffered some unimaginable catastrophe. Most life has been burned away. The sun hides behind a blanket of grey. Nothing grows. The few people left hide from one another, when they’re not trying to kill one another.

The man and the boy are moving south through an ashen landscape looking for what they don’t know, something better, the good guys, something green. They eat food from old tins, when they can find them, scrounged from abandoned houses. Mostly they don’t eat.

What is there to recommend in such a book?

There is, first, the father’s love for the boy, and the boy’s love for his father. It’s a fierce love, stark and elemental, a love with everything unessential stripped away, just as the biosphere of the earth has here been stripped away. The transcendence of such love bores straight into the reader’s soul. It’s the kind of love a parent has for a defenseless infant, the kind I still can remember and feel for my son.

I’m scared, says the boy.
I know, says the man, holding him.

What more is there?

I understand, following the story of what this man does for this boy, how a parent will endure any horror, will make any sacrifice, will never give up.



repent signI like listening to books, and listened to this one in my car driving to and from work. Because the world has fallen apart before, and threatens to again, it was no stretch to suspend my disbelief of this conjured earth. I know, or should know, we live on luck and borrowed time.  For we are—where did I read it?—the dirt under God’s fingernail.

I go to the grocery store and come back with a bag full. I turn the tap and water flows. I flip on the light. I sleep in my own bed. Miracles. The second reason I recommend the book. To pierce the veil of assumption and entitlement and force an apprehension of everything taken for granted.

It’s not an intellectual appreciation. McCarthy’s literary gift makes the awareness visceral. How simple my needs. How vapid and banal, sometimes, the upwardly mobile metaphors propelling my desires.

Every day I got home after listening to a chapter of this book, I wanted to find Nick, hold him, kiss him, press him close to my body. I had to protect him from — what? Everything was normal, fine. The vivid and continuous dream of the novel existed only in my mind. Nick was Nick, playing with Legos, eating a peach, safe.

Hi dada, he said.

Hi Nick, I said.

The greatest works of art make you see differently. Nothing changes. Everything changes.

Every precious moment.



You Are Far Away




Cormack McCarthy website – He is, I think, our greatest contemporary novelist.



Any thoughts about the roads we travel? Add your comment below. I always respond here. This just in: you can be notified of responses to you by clicking “Replies to my comments” in the drop down menu under your comment.


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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara July 18, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Thank you for writing this review. Both of my boys read this and loved it (as well as No Country For Old Men.) I put off reading it, though, because it sounded so dang depressing, even though I’m the one who bought it. It’s currently sitting on my daughter’s bookshelf, although I’m not sure if she’s read it yet. When I finish what I’m currently reading, I’ll be sure to dive into it. Angela’s Ashes is the last book I read that made me cry like that. I guess it’s been long enough.


Wolf Pascoe July 18, 2011 at 6:44 pm

I will really want to know how it hits you.


Kristen @ Motherese July 18, 2011 at 3:45 pm

I think you’re right to call it “weeping.” I wept too – long and hard – while reading The Road. I suppose that I’ve cried while reading other books, but I don’t recall feeling as changed by the experience of reading one as I did with this one. I’m not sure that McCarthy imagined the novel as a love letter to his sons (I think he has two), but that’s the way I read it, pregnant as I was with my second son.

(Let me know if you ever do watch the movie – you know, if they do a remake with Geoffrey Rush.)


Wolf Pascoe July 18, 2011 at 6:48 pm

I know I said I would watch anything with Geoffrey Rush in it. It’s true. It may take that to get me to watch this movie. But if I do see it sooner, you’ll be the first to know.


Charlie July 20, 2011 at 3:40 am

Wow… “To pierce the veil of assumption and entitlement and force an apprehension of everything taken for granted.” I guess blogs can also do that.


Wolf Pascoe July 20, 2011 at 10:16 am

I know a few.


BigLittleWolf July 20, 2011 at 3:49 pm

This is a book I have not read. Now I would very much like to.

“To pierce the veil of assumption and entitlement and force an apprehension of everything taken for granted.”

Would that words – or deeds – could somehow accomplish this, even chisel away at it in some small but effective measure. Perhaps this is what literature does. Or poetry.

If only we could deliver a bit of both to those who do not see, along with armloads of the assistance which is needed, to restore the balance of essentials, including values.


Wolf Pascoe July 20, 2011 at 4:02 pm

It’s a book that tears your heart out.
But in a good way.


Planner2015 July 20, 2011 at 8:55 pm

I am not grown up enough to read this book. There, I said it.


Wolf Pascoe July 20, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Ah, Planner, but I still hope you’re not disappointed I didn’t make a trip to the unpronounceable town!


Planner2015 July 20, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Well, yes, because I was hoping while you were there you could find out who begat Shep. I’ve always wanted to know.


Wolf Pascoe July 20, 2011 at 10:53 pm

I think I’m not grown up enough to know who Shep is.


Sirena July 20, 2011 at 10:23 pm

I also listened to “The Road” going to and from work. I find Cormac McCarthy’s books, well, the word I come up with is “devastating”. It is just so incredible how he can make you feel SO much. I read “No Country for Old Men” first and was, well, worse than devastated – I can’t come up with a word, but I felt like I needed to take a shower for about a lot of days when I finished it. Anyway, thank you for the reminder to appreciate.


Wolf Pascoe July 20, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Curious, Sirena. Was there no reward in it for you?


Sirena July 21, 2011 at 10:19 am

Reward??!! Are you kidding – I was happy just to finish a Cormac McCarthy book without having to be on antidepressants afterwards!(lol). Seriously, I’m not sure what you mean by “reward”, but if there was a reward, it was to have read an excellent book by one of the best authors around and have been deeply moved by it. I think I’ll go re-read the “Twilight” series now….


Wolf Pascoe July 21, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Deeply moved works for me.


Lucas July 26, 2011 at 9:47 am

Great recommendation Wolf! I recently finished ‘The Wave’ by Susan Casey, and am now reading ‘Unbroken’ by Laura Hillenbrand. It is also a compelling story of the survival of a World War II vet who went from Olympic runner to P.O.W. So far an incredible story, but can’t wait to read, ‘The Road’. It will be my next book, thanks!!!


Wolf Pascoe July 26, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Thanks, Lucas. I should start a book club.


Gregg July 18, 2013 at 12:33 pm

This book is a remarkable love story. Shining, ringing, universal unstoppable and eternal love of a father for his son. The setting and the plot are dark and bleak but they are perfectly employed to illuminate the beauty of the love at the core of the story.


Wolf Pascoe July 18, 2013 at 12:45 pm

A love story, yes. Exactly.


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