Synopsis: The searing, postapocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece.
A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.
The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, “each the other’s world entire,” are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.
I really didn’t know what to expect when going into The Road. I knew it had inspired countless recent apocalyptic novels, and was deemed one of the greatest works of literature of the past few decades. Hell, it was even an Oprah’s Book Club selection. I never actively searched out Cormac McCarthy’s novels, but upon seeing a hardcover edition of this particular book in my local thrift store, I decided to give it a shot.
The most immediately noticeable thing about this novel is its stark minimalism. This is a story that takes place entirely in a ruined Earth, and it’s all about an unnamed man and son’s long walk south to warmer weather and . . . perhaps, people. McCarthy writes like an heir to Ernest Hemingway; his prose is striking, subdued, and nominal. There are no quotation marks or apostrophes to be found here, which bothered me until I fell into the rhythm of the story the author was trying to tell. I know that bothers many readers — especially the lack of quotation marks thing — but I think it’s fitting. It is not always clear who is speaking, which fits perfectly with the style of this somber tale. This is a cold, dead, uninviting world; it’s only necessary for the prose to be uninviting as well.
The Road is an icy, unforgettable journey — and I’m glad I took it. While it isn’t perfect (I felt the first half was pretty slow going, and some of the overly minimal dialogue made things a little confusing at times), it’s a book I will probably reread in the years to come. I’m not sure it’s totally worthy of all the acclaim it has gotten since its release a decade ago, but I really dug McCarthy’s writing style overall and will certainly look into more of his works. It was a totally solid read. Four stars.