The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Early this morning I finished The Road and cannot resist a plug. A friend of mine who shares a concern for the end of humanity brought it to my attention. I picked up a copy intending to read it over the holidays, but before I knew it I was 50 pages in and could not put it down.

Like other works by Cormac McCarthy, The Road takes place in the open vistas of southwestern USA, but with a twist. This USA is the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse that has wiped out most of humanity, apart from a few stragglers, not to mention the rest of nature. It follows a father and son as they head on the road toward, hopefully, a better life. The macro story of utter trajedy and paradise lost, and the desperate economics of survival in that world, are set against the deep love between the father and a son who never knew the world as we know it.

It is one of the most powerful books I have ever read, a haunting vision of a plausible future and a compelling narrative of the human condition. I’m not a particularly weepy person but McCarthy’s storytelling made my eyes well up with tears on practically every other page, and by the end I was bawling my eyes out. As someone troubled by the prospect of runaway climate change leading us on a slow road to extinction, and perhaps seeing that through a father’s eyes, the book tapped a deep emotional well for me.

I could go on and on about what happens in the story, but that would spoil it for you. So pick it up and read it.

8 comments

  • It is a truly great book, indeed. I think it reverberates in everyone who has read it because we can identify both with the father AND the son (as most of us are sons and fathers). As I was reading it, I kept asking “why bother?” and the question was answered.

  • Thanks to your recommendation, I put this book on my Christmas list and was pleased to find it arrive. I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic novels.

    Thank you.

  • And one comment to stone – most of us are not sons and fathers. Most of us are mothers and daughters. It’s a small margin to be sure, but my generalization trumps yours.

  • I just finished this book. It left me shaken and sick at heart. The ferocity of the father’s devotion to keeping his son safe was moving beyond belief, and the child’s innocence and hope in spite of all the horror he witnessed brought tears to my eyes more than once. In spite of the malaise the book left me with, I found at the end a small feeling of hope that “the good guys” would prevail in the end. I don’t know if I could bear to read it again, certainly not for a long time, but I would definitely recommend it to others.

  • Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Marc. Indeed a moving read. I trust you have seen the Coen Bros. “No Country for Old Men”, based on a Cormac McCarthy novel. A similarly, if not equally, bleak view of the times, leavened by the odd touch of black humour.

  • One powerful book. A very touching love story between parent and child.

  • My understanding is that the book is set in the Appalachian Mountains (Massachusetts area), not “in the open vistas of southwestern USA”. The two are struggling to get through the mountains to the coast in the SE.
    Michael

  • It is interesting that Marc Lee thinks that this novel is set in the southwestern US and that the apocalypse that precedes that action was “nuclear” in nature. The landscape, as described, is much more generic, though the bleak hills and incessant rain suggest the Appalachian mountains. And the cause of the cataclysm is never identified. The secret of the novel’s (in my view limited) success is that it allows the reader to project his/her own experiences and fears onto the main characters.

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