Tammy Marshall, "Novel Thoughts"

October must be my month for reading bleak and dreary things, both at home and at school where I teach an English class.

In that class, I’m embarking on a short literary tour of Edgar Allan Poe’s works, most notably “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” while at home I chose to read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy.

A bleaker and drearier novel I cannot name. I guess each of these reads are quite fitting for the month that boasts Halloween as its major holiday.

“The Road” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2007, and, as you know, I am on a mission to read all the fiction winners.

After completing this novel, I’ve read 55 of the 91 winners, so I’m making slow, yet steady, progress.

Knowing the premise of this particular novel in advance and having glimpsed pieces of its movie trailer a few years ago, I must admit that I was in no hurry to read this book because it simply seemed too depressing.

However, I finally decided not to put it off any longer, and at only 285 reading pages, it was a quick read.

This was also due, in part, to McCarthy’s decision to not include any chapters at all. Instead, the book is comprised of numerous short sections, many containing fewer than 10 lines.

Another thing that the author decided not to include was apostrophes in contractions when the second word was “not” — thus, a reader finds these words: cant, wasnt, hadnt, isnt, etc.

Additionally, McCarthy chose not to use any quotation marks around any of the dialogue, and there is plenty of dialogue even though there are only two characters (for the most part) who do the talking.

On the subject of these characters, they do not have names; instead, they are simply known as Papa and the boy (his son).

Clearly, McCarthy broke many of the “rules” of writing in this novel.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason he won the Pulitzer for it. I read an online post in which one reader was blasting the judges for having selected “The Road” as their winner in 2007.

In his opinion, this novel wasn’t deserving of it because he didn’t think it held any “literary merit.” On one hand, I can see his point — this is a very depressing story set in a hopeless and barren post-apocalyptic world, and it paints a horrifying portrait of the lengths to which people will go to survive even when survival offers no promise of a better future.

Yet, perhaps that is exactly why it won the award — it paints a very vivid portrait, and McCarthy does that with his words and his structure and his rule-breaking choices.

I’ll admit that I didn’t much like this novel either because of its bleakness, but I can also see the beauty of McCarthy’s writing, and he does leave the reader with the tiniest ray of hope at the end of his otherwise dark and dismal story.

For my part, though, I’m going to look for cheerier reads during November, the month set aside for being thankful.

Contact Marshall at tamreader@gmail.com.


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