A Review of The Road By Cormac McCarthy or as I Like to Call it: How Not to Survive After A Disaster.
I read the novel The Road, by Cormac McCarthy and then after a few days of letting the story marinate, I watched the movie. Frankly, the book is better (it always is) but the director did a fabulous job with the movie. Obviously, large parts of the book were left out of the movie in the interests of time and flow, but the movie didn’t suffer for the editing. I am not going to lie, I cried like a little girl in some places. In other parts I wanted to jump right into the book and shake some sense into the main character, the man. In a survivalist situation, when you are doing everything you can to avoid being eaten by roving gangs of cannibals, who in their right mind makes nightly fires? Why not just stuff a moldy apple in the kid’s mouth, set him up on a platter and ring the dinner bell?
The book and movie should certainly not be taken as a manual on how to survive in the aftermath of a global cataclysmic event. As a piece of literature that explores issues of humanity, father and son relationships and questions our morals and ethics in the face of tragedy, it is a good read and may even get you thinking. It will certainly put you off light colored meat for awhile and have you hoarding all the fruit salad and ammo that you can.
From a preparedness point of view, this novel is incredibly disappointing. Through flashbacks, the reader is given multiple glances into the lead up to the disaster, as well as the time immediately following it. The man is knowledgeable enough to know that he needs to fill the tub with drinkable water before it is shut off, but doesn’t seem to do much disaster planning. The boy is born just after the disaster and the story begins when he is about nine or ten. One of the flashbacks shows the family still at their home and the child is about seven years old. We aren’t told what they have been doing in the interim, except that they have used all but two of the bullets in their one gun. They have a home with food and clothing and creature comforts that they leave for an unknown reason, yet they haven’t banded together with any of their neighbors or friends?
They even stumble upon an emergency shelter loaded with clean food, water and shelter and leave it to continue on his quest for the coast. In the presence of such a hoard of food, I find it incredibly difficult to imagine that a starving man and child would be able to walk away from it. As a literary device it works well to show how humanity can snap back in place when essentials aren’t in scarce supply, however, common sense dictates that he would make camp in the area and continue to forage food and supplies to ensure that he and the boy built up their immune systems and energy reserves. The shelter is stocked with bullets that do not work with his gun, so he leaves them there, rather than cart them along as items to barter and trade or use in an improvised fashion for self defense.
Rather than continue to rag on the book for what it didn’t do, I would rather focus on three things it did do that put me into quasi panic mode and made me reevaluate my plans.
1. Made me conscious of how little I have prepared myself for life without verifiable maps and the ability to navigate without a GPS. The Man and the boy follow the highways and open road on their quest to find the coast. This is incredibly dangerous as it leaves them open to attack from all of the threats present in the book. They do not seem to have a choice as their shopping cart could not make it through the brush of the forests. I had to question how I would have handled it differently. Would a simple plank frame sledge dragged through the forest be any better? It would leave tracks and be easy to follow and difficult to handle. Would a compass still be a viable guide?
2. Kill or be killed? Is holding on to their morals really the most appropriate way to survive? When they meet up with other people on the road, they often give the strangers the benefit of the doubt, leaving themselves open to attack. Why didn’t they form an alliance with at least one other adult for protection? That way they wouldn’t be sleeping unguarded at night, the boy wouldn’t have had to remain alone unguarded while the man foraged for wood and food and they would have had far more options for self defense.
3. In an apocalyptic situation, is survival really the only consideration? What about rebuilding a civilization? The book mentions communes and cannibalistic tribes as well as nomadic gangs of men and permanent homesteaders farming people. But are there no groups of like-minded people with knowledge and skills available to create a safer community of refugees? By merely surviving are they in fact ensuring their extinction? In living a day to day hard scrabble existence, they cannot plan for the future. How is the man such a dead shot when he has been carrying around two shots in his gun for over three years without shooting it? Practice is essential for any type of specialized skill. Gardening and animal husbandry are impossible thanks to the bleak conditions and the need to continually move along. How has this scenario changed my preparations for potential disasters and emergencies? Hugely; I am rethinking most of my plans and reassessing my viable skills.
All in all, both the movie and the book got me thinking long and hard about the steps I have taken so far to prepare and the things I still need to do. The biggest item I am lacking is knowledge. Educating myself more about homesteading practices, basic outdoorsman-ship and personal health care and protection would be far more useful than a majority of the gadgets that I have stockpiled. I may end up somewhere far from my stash, but I will always have the training in how to create a natural water filter or know which potential vegetation is edible and which is akin to hazardous waste. The book and the movie are certainly not for the faint of heart and will not help you sleep better at night, but they will get your brain working and inspire you to do a better job of prepping for the potential future.
Lucas Gregson is a Personal Security Plan specialist with a keen interest in prepping and home security. He advocates for sensible self defense training and the enjoyment of a good book but not at the same time.