I am in a distinct minority when it comes to this book. But, at least for me — this is a stellar example of a painful read! Granted, part of it was the subject material. Post-apocalyptic has never really been my first choice of reads. I find them fatalistic (which, I guess, is the point) and at times even unbearable. This book was certainly no exception.
I guess the first thing that really made me struggle with this one was the characterizations. Yes, I understand McCarthy’s literary assertion that with the death of the world, comes the figurative death of the individual. But, in this instance I think it went too far. In a book where individuals are stripped of everything, including a name, it is really hard to form some kind of connection with them. This, in turn makes it more than a struggle to engage with the whole story. Every time I read “The Man” or “The Boy”, it made me want to put the book down and move on to something more enjoyable. The characters were so stripped of identity that there was nothing memorable about them. Simply put — they were shallow to the point of non-entities. But strangely enough — this complete non-character approach did insure this one stays in my memory, even if it is only because of my degree of dislike about everything in the book.
Unfortunately, this non-entity status undermined everything else about the story. I just felt like there was no point. It seemed like McCarthy was trying demonstrate the absolute depth of human depravity — with no redeeming value whatsoever. Moral integrity, empathy, love, compassion — even interest in humanity as a whole — all gone. The “protagonists” (and I use the term loosely), never seemed to be going anywhere. There was no purpose for their continued existence, or reason for them to keep going. I felt like the entire commentary was “a return to the sea — from whence we came”; but to what end, I have no idea. There is no rebirth, no vision of a potential future — even if it was a rebuilt shadow of what once was, no reason to go on living; the book had very little power and really no purpose to the whole story.
The graphic nature of the book is one of fatalistic moral depravity. It was almost unbelievable that the entire conflict of the story was a father’s attempt to teach his son morality, while living in a world of no morals or social moors, is pointless. Even “The Man’s” explanation of why killing is wrong (you can’t say a sin — there is no God; and you can’t say illegal — there is no law), when he has just killed a man, is almost farcical. If “The Man” was really troubled about the killing — that may have been one thing. But how is he suppose to teach “The Boy” that it is morally reprehensible to take a life, except in the most extreme situations of life and death, when that is the only kind of situation that exists — and “The Man”, himself, seems completely indifferent to the entire act? What is left to teach “The Boy”, except that killing is nothing more than a means of survival, with no significant principle attached to it?
For most readers of apocalyptic literature, you are frequently familiar with the common theme of the struggle to maintain humanity, in the face of the world being reduced to no social boundaries, whatsoever. There are no laws, no regulations, no expectations and no reason or purpose to consider your neighbor; in fact there is no reason for the individual to engage with others, for any reason. But, another common theme throughout this type of book, is the attempt of men to rebuild something that shores up that which is lost — in order to keep him from declining into a complete existence as just another animal. McCarthy certainly got the moral and social disconnect in place. But he fails to give society any reason to go on living. It is simply the wilderness of the greatest predator of all; man is cut loose as animals, in a ruined world.
Overall — this is simply a book that I can’t recommend. It is fatalistic, depressing and over the top oppressive. There seems to really be no point to the book, and I came away feeling that it had been a colossal waste of time.