Reading The Road was one of the most disturbing, haunting, and profoundly moving experiences I have ever had. It was like taking a literary punch to the gut; a punch so hard it was nauseating. As another reviewer aptly said, “There is an urgency to each page, and a raw emotional pull… making it easily one of the most harrowing books you’ll ever encounter… Once opened, [it is] nearly impossible to put down; it is as if you must keep reading in order for the characters to stay alive…”
A masterful, inventive piece of apocalyptic fiction, The Road – written by prolific American novelist Cormac McCarthy – is a tale of desperate survival, unrestrained depravity, and courage in the face of horrifying odds. But most importantly, it is a love story; a powerful love story. One that passionately depicts the fierce, undying affection that burns between a father and his son.
McCarthy’s novel follows an unnamed father and son as they walk alone through the desolation that was once North America. Nothing stirs in the ruined landscape except ash, blowing in a wind cold enough to crack stone. When the snow falls, it is gray. When the rain falls, it is sooty. The sky is dark and forbidding. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what awaits them there. They have nothing: nothing save the clothes on their backs, a shopping cart full of scavenged food, a revolver, two bullets – and each other.
This world-wide devastation was the result of a cataclysm, one which McCarthy wisely leaves unspecified. Most of mankind is dead – snuffed out by famine and disease. But there are survivors. Some, like our protagonists, are forced to pursue a life of perpetual wandering, scavenging for food and fighting for life as best they can. Others commit suicide, convinced that there is nothing to live for. Still others – indeed, the vast majority – become cannibals, eaters of human flesh, banding together to prey on their weaker brethren. Thus the story. Thus the tragedy.
Heavy stuff, indeed.
McCarthy possesses a massive vocabulary, and he unleashes it to stunning effect. The stark, hardened prose fits the story like a glove. When the characters feel fear, you feel fear; when they grieve, you grieve; when they find refuge from danger, you are relieved. Consider this passage:
He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.
The world of The Road is a world unto itself – a world that feels real; danger that feels real; and characters that feel as real as you or I.
Speaking of characters, those in McCarthy’s story make for a very interesting study…
The Mother views the devastated world through a lens of bitterness and selfish despair. She offers no encouragement or strength to her husband and young son. She forsakes them. She rails against God; and then she kills herself.
Standing in contrast is the Father. He is ill – dying in fact – and yet, through wracking pain and exhaustion, he is purposed not to give up. His lion-like devotion to his son, and his determination to protect him at all costs, is what keeps him going. “My job is to take care of you,” he tells the child. “I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?”
For the Boy, the devastated world is the only world he knows. He was born into it. He remembers nothing before it. There is an innocence, a purity, a gentleness about him which, at times, acts like a restraining hand upon his father’s harsher inclinations. Yet he loves and trusts his father implicitly. He could not live without his father; his father would not live without him.
As far as content goes, I wouldn’t recommend this book for readers under 15. The themes are mature, and there’s quite a bit of disturbing, violent content related to cannibalism and suicide. There is also some crass swearing scattered throughout.
The Road is definitely not for everyone. And McCarthy is not coming from a distinctly Christian worldview. But for lovers of exceptional literature, I would highly recommend this one. It offers much to think about: especially concerning the power of filial love, and the deep dark ugliness that naturally lurks within the heart of man.