I happen to love old novels. There’s just something different from the way they wrote books fifty years (and earlier) ago compared to how they write them now. The first two novels in the Classic Review series are clearly defined as “classics”: John Steinbeck’s The Pearl and JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.
The Pearl was published in 1947 and The Catcher in the Rye in 1951. So, what about new classics? What really defines a classic? Everyone tries to explain what it means to them, though it seems that a major commonality is the ability to stand the test of time. Why is it then that someone saw fit to coin the term “instant classic?”
It’s probably because amazing pieces of literature are coined nearly everyday. A lot of those are never intended to see the light of day. (Did you know that the majority of Emily Dickinson’s poems were discovered by her sister and published post-mortem?) This brings me to my topic of this Classic Novel Review, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which is relatively newly published in 2006.
I didn’t pick this book out for myself. In fact, it was part of a very long list that my somewhat eccentric Lit teacher handed out at the beginning of the semester when I was in college. So, for our huge end of term paper, each student had to do a literary analysis of a book on that list. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time with The Road, a whole semester in fact. When you are required to write what could be considered a novella explaining the depth of a book, you start to appreciate it in a whole new way.
However, I realized after countless hours in the library with other students that I really lucked out. The Road was slammed packed with metaphors and an utterly chillingly beautiful setting.
(I’ve been doing my classic reviews a lot more like literary analyses because that is how I’m used to handling that type of fiction. Even when I try to treat it like a normal review, I have a hard time doing it because I’m afraid a real feeling review will stop a reader from picking up a copy. But, let’s give this a try, shall we?)
McCarthy has a noticeable writing style, and it can be a bit hard to read because the guy doesn’t exactly believe in punctuation. Of course, while I don’t recommend writers doing this, it does kind of lend itself to creating a very hopeless, wandering feeling. And truly, this only added to the desolation of this book. It was a clever writing device that was effective, but it does take a little getting used to.
The whole idea is that the world has burned itself up and there are very few survivors. The characters we are set to follow are a father and a son. The movie that was based on this book does not do it justice. See, in the movie, they gave you a barren wasteland and the horrific scenes of the cannibals. (Yes, there are cannibals because the world has gone to waste leaving little to no food.) But, in the book, the scenery, the plain wording, the route they take, the food they eat, the way they interact with each other, the descriptions of all that’s left of nature, pretty much every aspect heightens the relationship between this father and son. It makes it tangible in a way a two-dimensional movie never could.
I will say this is not a light and easy read. It’s more of something that will make you see the world differently. It’ll help you see relationships differently. It defines humanity differently. When I finished the book, I felt changed. Something about the desolation of that world and the strength between the father and son gave me more compassion and gratitude, and that is something I never thought I’d bring away from a book so plainly written. I felt as if I was there. It’s like he tricked me with his common speech and casual dialogue. And when I was finally finished, I felt as if I had awoken from a bad dream, feeling both relieved and awakened.