Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Road ~ and ~ A Canticle for Leibowitz

I've had my Science Fiction Favorites in the sidebar for some time now, and this is what it said, with McCarthy's book tacked on over the weekend:
Everyone should read Robert Heinlein's classic Stranger in a Strange Land. I also highly recommend The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. My vote for best post-apocalyptic fiction has long been A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.; however, I am reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy and may have to revise my choice.
But no, it turns out I don't need to revise my vote after all because I still think A Canticle for Leibowitz is the best. As far as I know Miller's book never won any awards, much less the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. Yeah, yeah, I know this prize is awarded for an author’s entire output and not necessarily for any one book, but the award was given this year just after Oprah chose The Road as her book club selection and most people think this is the one that got Cormac McCarthy the award.

The Road
by Cormac McCarthy, 2006

Now, my review of The Road. It starts off with a sentence, followed by a sentence fragment and another sentence fragment. Do you know what I mean by a fragment? I could call it a "stump" of a sentence. A sentence fragment leaves out some major part of a sentence, like a subject or a verb. Some of McCarthy's "sentences" are prepositional phrases. Two readers shared their opinions with the Book Buddies book club, one saying, "Good writing style," and the other, "I am also enjoying the writing style." Not me! Occasional sentence fragments (like "Not me!") are okay, but an entire book written that way drove me to distraction. Okay, I admit my aversion to constant sentence fragments may relate to my (former) life as an editor, but still...

One good thing I can say about this style of writing is that it did convey the fragmented life experienced by all of the characters. This book seems to validate T. S. Eliot's 1925 poem "The Hollow Men" which ends like this:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
(*** SPOILER *** stop reading here, if you haven't finished the book.) I got that point early in the book, which went on and on with few full thoughts. I should say that THAT appears to be the whole point. Everything in the book is designed to show that the main characters (well, all of the characters, actually) are living from one minute to the next. Not each day, not each hour, but minute to minute not knowing whether they will find food or survive until tomorrow. No sun ever penetrates the hazy sky; the survivors -- of what? a nuclear holocaust? -- wheeze trying to breathe the leaden air; night is as dark as a cave when your torch goes out. (End of SPOILER.)

This is a bleak, gray novel. And that is the point. This quote says it all for me:
"At night when he woke coughing he'd sit up with his hand pushed over his head against the blackness. Like a man waking in a grave" (p. 180).
Everyone in the story seems set against everyone else ... until the end, which seems to me to validate the point the boy has been trying to make all along. Rated 8/10, very good.

A Canticle for Leibowitz
by Walter M. Miller Jr., 1959

This is a very different kind of post-apocalyptic story. It is many, many years after nuclear war has destroyed our world, and people are resuming life ... but not as we know it. Ashing has become a god, and the people are in awe of the sacred shopping list of Leibowitz, one of the few pieces of paper from "before." Ashing, have you heard of him? A chipped and broken statue calls w-ASHING-ton "the father." Aha! It's a "statue fragment" which leaves us with a "stump" of a name! Anyway, more centuries pass, and there's another civilization, a different one. And again, many more years pass and we see a third post-war civilization. One man appears to be in the stories of all these civilizations. Is he really the same person? Or is it a coincidence these men (plural) seem to be one and the same?

The Road makes a point, but in my opinion A Canticle for Leibowitz is more enjoyable and intriguing to read. Rated 9/10, excellent!

UPDATE:  Melissa, the Book Nut, has written a good review of A Canticle for Leibowitz.

UPDATE #2:  I happened to re-read this post on 12-27-18 and followed the link to Melissa's "good review" above, which no longer exists.  She left Blogger, but following all the clues I was given, I think this is probably the same review, but on her new blog site:


Stephanie said...

I haven't had a chance to read The Road yet and I'm still looking forward to it. But now I have a new book to add to the TBR! A Canticle for Leibowitz sounds great! Thanks for posting!

Jill said...

I am a bit of a grammar traditionalist myself. I can get very hung up in writing styles like this one in The Road. I really made a conscientious effort to "look past," and I am glad I did. Looks like, overall, you enjoyed the book too.

Zorro said...

I read The Road with Oprah and with the Cormac McCarthy Forum as a background resource. Do you know of these academics who discuss CM's books? I have read the Border Trilogy, Blood Meridian, and No Country for Old Men. I do like CM's style! Bleak with hope somewhere out there.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Thanks for the review - I fell better about the book already :)