Last month I introduced my new series, Reclaim Horror. Today we’ll be looking at one of my favorite books, The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The Road is set in the post-apocalyptic Eastern United States. It centers on a father and his boy who was born just as the world was ending. He is now 9 or 10. They are trying to head south for the winter and must survive the evils they encounter along the way.
According to IMDB, the movie adaptation is adventure/drama. According to Wikipedia, it is post-apocalyptic fiction, which is considered a sub-genre of science fiction that also includes zombie apocalypses (!). Amazon also mentions that Cormac McCarthy is a literary author, and this book won the Pulitzer Prize. So let’s examine these labels:
This is a tough sell for me, because I don’t really consider evading cannibals or surviving starvation an adventure. Most adventure stories are exciting, but I think they tend to lack an absolute sense of danger. Indiana Jones is an adventure story. Some exciting things will happen on a journey, but there’s a clear sense of hope to it too.
There are a few Full House father-son talks in The Road, and it definitely centers on the internal development of these two characters. One of the brilliant things about the book is you could plop them into a Saturday at the park, and their conversations would still ring true. However, because of the post-apocalyptic setting, I think there’s a more accurate category for the book. It happens a lot with horror that people try to undersell it as drama (i.e. The Walking Dead).
Yes, this is the book’s setting. The problem is that it’s not the genre. As a sub-genre of science fiction, there needs to be something scientifically extrapolated in the text. There is only a vague hand-waving toward what caused this apocalypse, because the apocalypse is not the point.
This is the only one I would agree with, because the book is absolutely beautiful. It’s lyrical, and it’s character-driven. My argument is that the book is literary horror.
To be reclaimed, I must prove that it meets Stephen King’s 3 criteria: the gross-out, the horror, and the terror. The gross-out occurs most notably in a scene where a baby is roasted on a spit. The horror is the scene where they find a basement full of people being held prisoner as food. The terror is the overall tension of the book. It is clear that at any moment the worst thing you can or cannot imagine may befall them. There is a classic terror rule: stay off the road. Even when they find a bunker full of food, you don’t want them to stay, because you believe that someone will come back for it and kill them. Above all, there’s an absolute sense that evil has won in the end of times.
I have some more pieces in mind to reclaim, but have you seen or read anything that sneaked past the horror label? With claws outstretched, we’ll pull them back into the darkness with us, where they belong.
P.S. On October 7th, I will announce The Midnight Society’s next Top Scare Flash Fiction Contest winner. Keep those entries coming!