Cormac McCarthy's tale of a post-apocalyptic America opens on a road where a father and his son trudge along pushing a shopping trolley filled with their earthly belongings in a world all but destroyed, where the dying land is burnt black, forests defoliated and ashened, the sky perpetually gray. It is always cold, dark, damp and gloomy. There is nothing beautiful about the rain falling in this story because it only adds to the prevailing sense of sorrow that weighs heavier and heavier as the story unravels. The Road won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007.
Cormac McCarthy's tale of a post-apocalyptic America The Road opens on a road where a father and his son trudge along pushing a shopping trolley filled with their earthly belongings in a world all but destroyed, where the dying land is burnt black, forests defoliated and ashened, the sky perpetually gray. It is always cold, dark, damp and gloomy. There is nothing beautiful about the rain falling in this story because it only adds to the prevailing sense of sorrow that weighs heavier and heavier as the story unravels.
But despite the foreboding about what lays ahead on the road, and what lurks behind, there is still light and hope in the strong affection and bond between father and son, or Man and Boy as they are simply called in the book. One being the other's sole reason to fight and continue living, or as McCarthy wrote it - each the other's world entire. The boy has no mother. She saw no hope in living after the cataclysmic event and chose to commit suicide. It is hard not to be touched by the love the father has for the son; how he wills himself to survive for the son, and how the son gives him hope that maybe the next day will be different.
And yet, tomorrow is always the same as yesterday. And today is only about making it through to tomorrow. The road they are traveling on is never ending, but they soldier on towards the coast to reach warmer climate. Along the way, they hide in bushes on the roadside, in abandoned homes in empty towns, avoid coveys of lost souls like them who have been reduced to the lowest form of humanity to survive; some resorting to cannibalism. Always, the Man tries to shield his son's eyes from these sights, to protect his innocence in a world broken beyond repair. Moments like these, one aches for the boy and feels the hopelessness that surrounds them. It makes the heart turn heavy and subdued by the same feeling of not knowing what to do.
Ultimately, the book is not about the road, or about what cataclysmic event that led these two souls there. It is about a father and his son - their relationship. It always comes back to them, the way they communicate, the way the father takes care of the son, feeding him, fending for him, protecting him, giving him hope, sharing the dark dreams they both have in the even darker nights. It is the way he speaks to the boy, in simple yet so loving terms, and their conversations that is most affecting. Tender and gentle are the Man's words to his son in the midst of their fight for survival, scavenging for sustenance - tin food found in cellars and empty houses, dried shriveled apples found in the grounds of an orchard - and all the time, keeping a vigilant eye over themselves, looking out for marauders who are armed with weapons, hunting for other humans as food.
There is a scene where the Man and Boy discover a vaulted cellar and pry it open only to discover a group of people who had been captured and locked up as food stock. Slowly consumed by their captors, one limb at a time so that they can be kept alive for as long as possible in a world without electricity and refrigeration. It is a terrifying landscape and the Man carries with him a pistol with two bullets (the pistol is for protection but the bullets are for suicide when all hope is gone).
Through it all, it is the Boy who keeps the faith, reminding the Man that they are the "good guys" and that they are the ones carrying the fire. When he falters, weighed down by the bleakness around him, it is always the Boy who props him up again, making sure he holds on to the humanity in him. The book ends with the death of the Man but the Boy survives, and is rescued by a family who had been traveling on the road behind them. The Man's death is heart sinking but there is comfort and solace in the knowing that the Boy is with a loving family who has taken him in as one of their own.
This is by far one of the most touching stories out there. The focus is always on these two lonely travelers as they move across the violent landscape. The tension is gripping at times and it is a book that is hard to put down. McCarthy's style of writing is raw and unique; "Faulkneresque", perhaps, seeing as McCarthy's prose is often likened to William Faulker's.
McCarthy is also the author of other notable titles such as Blood Meridian, Suttree, The Border Trilogy and No Country for Old Men. The Road won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007 and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 2006. It was also adapted into a movie starring Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the Man and Boy, respectively. Oprah's Book Club picked this book as one of its selections for 2007.