Book/Author and Year Published: The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
Age/Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Fiction
Preferred Reading Environment: Camping
Reading Accoutrements: A blanket to wrap tight around you as you read.
Content Notes: Violence, Murder, Death, Suicide, Suicidal Ideation, Children in Harsh Environments/Traumatic Situations
With all the dystopian and end-of-the-world type books I’ve been reading lately, it was only a matter of time before I got to The Road by Cormac McCarthy. My husband had already read it, so I knew what to expect: an intense, depressing read.
Welp, that’s the review. Happy Monday, everyone!
Okay, so there is more to say about The Road than the fact it’s a depressing post-apocalyptic novel, but honestly knowing that will probably tell you whether you’ll enjoy it. The Road follows an unnamed father and son navigating a desolate American countryside after some disaster has killed most of the people and left the land in ruins. Little grows, there are no animals to be seen, and the humans who are left are competing for the few remaining resources.
If you’re thinking, “That sounds horrible, why would you even want to live at that point?” then you’re in about the same mindset as the main character for most of the book. The man doesn’t see much point in going on, even longs for death, but he continues to scavenge for survival, mostly for the sake of his son. The boy, who is an unspecified age, but probably younger than 10, doesn’t really want to keep going, though. He’s cold, tired, and has seen countless corpses and horrors. At one point, a stranger tries to threaten the boy in order to gain the upper hand on the man. As you can imagine, no one is particularly happy at the end of that exchange.
The scene that really grabbed me was where the man reflects on his wife’s departure, when she shared that she saw no point in continuing to live. The man begged her to stay with them and told her he couldn’t continue without her. Her response was, “Well then don’t.” She didn’t want her son to continue to suffer, but she wouldn’t make that decision for him or the man. She made it for herself, though, and she refused to be swayed from it. This is admittedly a really bleak moment, but what do you expect from a book where a man and his son are traveling desolate wastelands with a gun and two bullets they are saving for the worst case scenario?
Bleak is probably one of the best words to describe this book. As I recounted parts of the book to Bethany, I said that it was pretty depressing, and she noted that I always pick depressing books, which is pretty true in a sense. Most of the books I’ve been drawn to lately have depressing things to say about humanity and/or our future. However, they all have varying degrees of hope in them. The Road does have hope, but also an overwhelming sense of meaninglessness. The man longs for death, but refuses to end his life. He doesn’t know why. In a way (and try to follow me past the surface-level existential dread of this statement), I think that depicts life in general. No one knows why we’re here or if there’s a reason. The difference is that most of us have some positive things in our lives that make it preferable to continue what we’re doing rather than see if there’s anything after death. In the world of The Road, people have to face the fact that the world has very little to offer. Is there any reason to remain? For some there is, and for others, there isn’t. Some don’t see a reason, but continue anyway.
McCarthy’s writing style is distinctive. In general, the vocabulary is accessible, but there are quite a few obscure words sprinkled throughout the book. It didn’t give me, “I don’t know what any of this means,” frustration, but more an, “Ooh, I need to look that word up, I might have a cool new word,” feeling. Since I’m talking about the writing, I do have to warn you that McCarthy doesn’t use quotation marks to denote dialogue. At first, this can be a little distracting, and there were a couple scenes where I gave up figuring out who was talking. A lot of the dialogue is pretty short exchanges between the father and son that boil down to:
Are you alright?
If you like post-apocalyptic fiction, you’ll probably like this book. It really made me want to pack a bug-out bag, while simultaneously demonstrating how quickly even the best planning can fall through. This specific post-apocalyptic landscape seems to have been brought on by some sort of nuclear event, or maybe a large-scale climate disaster. The air is not super-breathable, the sun is obscured by gray, and nothing grows. We never see the overarching event that caused these conditions, and I 100% believe that is to make the reader imagine and ponder all the possibilities. There are remnants of our world – billboards, abandoned houses, bunkers, vending machines, etc. Seeing the boy drink a soda for the first time, not knowing what it is, was pretty heart-wrenching. All in all, our world is recognizable in this post-apocalyptic future, which serves to make the characters relatable as well. There’s no overt environmental message, but the plot will definitely have you thankful that the world isn’t completely destroyed yet, and might have you thinking about ways you can contribute to preventing its destruction. At least, that’s where my mind went, and often goes to after reading books of this type.
Do you like post-apocalyptic fiction? Why or Why not?