Synopsis: A father and his young son walk alone through burned America, heading slowly for the coast. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. They have nothing but a pistol to defend themselves against the men who stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food – and each other.
Title: The Road
Author: Cormac McCarthy
I read The Road for the first time when it came out in 2006; in fact, it was the first book my father asked me to buy him (this never happens in my family!). When it came up as a book club read, I was really glad that 1.) I already owned it; and 2.) I really wanted to read it again.
I started reading late one evening and thought I’d get through a few chapters before bed, I got halfway through the book before I realised there were no chapters. I’d like to see this as a sign of a pretty incredible book, rather than a sign of my lack of any sense of awareness.
In my opinion, The Road isn’t a story – it has no beginning, middle or end and there is no significant plot development. It is, quite literally, about a man and a boy walking on a road. It is not about the end of the world, it is about what the end of the world looks like after the event: what it smells like, sounds like, feels like to face extinction.
McCarthy uses words sparingly and often doesn’t bother with a lot of punctuation or structure (he really doesn’t like speech marks either). Once I got into the minimalist style of writing – which took about 5 pages – I really enjoyed it; it just goes to show how easily authors can fall into the trap of over-writing. McCarthy’s minimalist nature allows the reader’s imagination the freedom to really kick in.
This is also what makes it a difficult read – you become completely invested in the characters and their relationship. The Road focuses on the real, emotionally harrowing feelings that run between father and son. I don’t remember whether the words ‘I love you’ were uttered once but they don’t need to be. It’s implicit. In a world where the kindest thing a father can do is to kill his child; every step the man takes, every look, every action is a mental and physical fight against this unnatural kindness.
McCarthy brings this barren, post-apocalyptic world to life in all its misery and its hope (depending on whether you’re a glass half-full or half-empty type person). The Road is profound, depressing, uplifting and well worth the read.