The Road follows the haggard figures of a father and son as they traverse the once lush landscape of the eastern coast of America. Nearly everything and everyone is dead following an unnamed apocalyptic catastrophe that occurred shortly before the child was born.
The father leads them south, knowing they will never survive another northern winter where the sunless sky and gray snow mean certain death to the nomadic pair. Using a map they track their progress south on the remains of an interstate highway.
Shelter is scarce. Food is scarcer. And, the few people who have survived the years of grey devastation are prisoners of their own fear or worse, ruthless cannibals. As the boy and his father struggle against hunger, sickness, and predators, the prospect of survival becomes more and more bleak. Carcasses and cars line the roadside, sometimes melted into the tar.
When it seems impossible to continue through such pages of unending desolation, McCormac injects a faint light of hope. The father and son discover an underground stock of canned foods or simply a coke that someone else missed when ransacking a house. Another day of survival. Another reason to continue their journey.
As they make their belabored odyssey down the asphalt path, flashbacks give a sketchy history what happened since the cataclysm as well as the father’s continual fight to keep himself and his son alive. Having been urged by his wife, who committed suicide herself, to kill the boy, the father simply cannot do it. He wrestles with moral and societal which pervade the novel.
When is it right to kill? How much is too much? Is God real? Does anything stand when nothing is left of a nation?
Cormac McCarthy’s novel is at once horribly bleak and breathtakingly beautiful. Composed of sparse, direct sentences, he artfully draws his characters and their surroundings with his careful choice of descriptions that allow your imagination to fill in the troubling details.
Tom Stechschulte reads The Road a little faster than I would have preferred, but still evokes the feelings, with the starkness of McCarthy’s prose, that the character’s experience as they make their laborious, uncertain journey.