With my reading history, this book kept popping up in my suggested reading. It soon became one of my most anticipated reads....but not because of what you think. Eventually I bought it. And waited. And waited. And waited. And a month later, I emailed the seller only to find that they never shipped it. So, I ordered again. It showed up a few days later. At that point, I was foaming at the mouth to read it.
As luck would have it, I had some 2nd shift radiography work, which meant a lot of slow time. I read this book over the course of two evenings.
So, as it has been mentioned above, this work borrows heavily from Cormac McCarthey's The Road, which I reviewed and you can read about it here. Suffice to say, The Road is one of my all-time favorites, though it is an extremely depressing work. However, The Road is the most realistic expectation for the end of the world that I have found. Not only does the realism surround people's behavior, but the expected effects on the environment of some sort of large scale NBC attack.
The book was very interesting, straightforward, and easy to read. I certainly enjoyed it. However, there is nothing unique about it, other than it is fairly well written for content, though the plot is not deep. Obviously it is more of a short story, as
The Old Man and the Wasteland follows the same road, but not to such an extent.It is a PG-13 edition of The Road. Instead of 9 or ten years after the extinction event, the Old Man takes place 40+ years in the future after the event. The environment is harsh, but not as harsh as The Road. In The Road, flora and fauna are all but extinct. The Old Man takes place in the Arizona desert, but other than references to fallout in other cities, the natural environment is the real challenge. The people are harsh, but also not as harsh as The Road. Though The Old Man deals with some unsavory characters, some that are as wild as animals, you can't help notice that, unlike the Road, he comes from a settlement. And, The Old Man talks of OTHER settlements. The people in these settlements work together in harmony. In The Road, there are no settlements, and every single person they come into contact with, or make mention of, is a savage bent on survival by any means necessary, notably cannibalism. Rape and murder are a rampant theme in The Road, where these acts could happen at any time. There is never any fanfare or lead up to that. If the man and his child are ever found, it is taken as gospel that these things will happen. Although this book makes mention of that, it doesn't seem to as likely a threat to the old man. In both of his contacts with outsiders, his immediate response to seeing and meeting people is one of cautious optimize instead of shear terror. In The Road, killing people before they ever see you is a likely measure for preservation. In The Old Man, killing is never really considered, and the Man does nearly anything to avoid it.
Like The Road, the main plot driver isn't the main character, but a child. Though the man (in both stories) has self-preservation on his mind, his thoughts and actions are almost always on and for the child. In The Road, the man is protecting his son. In The Old Man, the Man's reason to exist is his granddaughter. Neither has any desire to live for themselves, and the thoughts of suicide are always prevalent, though the Old Man considers only the idea of suffering from injury, where as the Man from The Road considers it as a release from the harsh environs that they must endure.
As I have stated many times, The Old Man mirrors The Road, but it is almost polarizing, as if done on purpose.
The landscape on in The Road takes place on the east coast, in areas that would have been considered the temperate heartland of America. However, the effects on the environment have made it a desolate and cold place, devoid of any sustenance. Hunger is the main concern and water is not. Conversely, The Old Man takes place in the Arizona desert, where the land has always been harsh and hot. However, necessity has caused the Old Man to learn to live on the land, particularly on the lands natural inhabitants like snake. Going hungry is never really an issue, though water is constantly on the Old Man's mind.
Both of the men in the stories carry revolvers. The man in The Road starts with 2 bullets which he refers to as one for him and one for the boy. Eventually he discharges one to save them, leaving him with just one for the remainder of the book. The Old Man starts the novel with 5 bullets, leaving one empty slot in his revolver. He refuses to use it on men. It may mean nothing, but to me, the number of shots each man has and how he chooses to use them shows parity between the two works.
Both men find an oasis of sorts. In The Road, the man chooses to leave it entirely and permanently and make his way to the coast, though the sustenance he leaves behind is more than he ever has in the book. In The Old Man, the Old Man also chooses to leave, but to bring his people BACK to the place.
In both works, the men die of what we assume is sudden onset organ failure brought on by radiation-induced cancer within hours of accomplishing their goals and we are left with the child becoming the focus of the work, though they were not the main character.
The man in The Road has an inner monologue that is extremely negative and hopeless. Paired with the gloomy and dark landscape, the read is very depressing and bleak. He expects the worst from ever situation and the situation is always cold and dark. The Old Man, despite being in his 60s, usually has a bright outlook, considering his situation. Similarly, nature around him is bright and warm, creating a very different feel.
As with The Road, the how and why of the apocalypse really aren't given, which allows for a streamlined design with few questions or possibilities of plot holes. It does leave the reader with many questions on the past, specifically on WHY the Old Man has become an outcast (the reason is hinted at a Hot Radio) just as The Road has an event with the Man's wife leaving which leads us to assume that this is the reason for taking to The Road.
I could think of more polarizing ideas, but you get the idea.
Overall, it was an easy read that kept me very focused, though the mental load is light. Although The Road leads readers to a lot of internal reflection and speculation, The Old Man is just a fun read. I have made the assumption that this was a short story that the writer hoped to wager into a full blown novel at some point. It left a lot of open ends on both sides.
Of course I was left with a lot of questions on just how much realism was in this work. My main question was this: Why was the man so unwilling to kill others when he almost always knew what the outcome would be? Even in situations where he had ample opportunity to end it, he didn't and instead forced himself into even more grave danger. Surely, he would have dealt with these situations in his 40 years in the wasteland.
Anyway, a fun and easy read.
I give it 3.5 Stars.