The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Rating: 5 of 5

A dreary parable readers will either embrace for its horror and beauty or reject as an atrocity.

Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction


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. (Source: Back of the book)

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road will haunt you. It did me; I had nightmares for weeks. The premise is, after all, pure horror: “living” with your child in a post-apocalyptic world. Where “living” is survival by any means necessary. All the time, in the back of your mind, wondering if this new “life” is even worth the effort. Knowing that if you die, your child will be on his own. That’s downright terrifying!

They picked their way among the mummied figures. The black skin stretched upon the bones and their faces split and shrunken on their skulls. Like victims of some ghastly envacuuming. Passing them in silence down that silent corridor through the drifting ash where they struggled forever in the road’s cold coagulate (p. 191).

And it wasn’t only the novel’s powerful themes and shocking antagonists that affected me, it was the prose, too; the way McCarthy used language…it was captivating, to say the least.

The blackness he woke to on those nights was sightless and impenetrable. A blackness to hurt your ears with listening. Often he had to get up. No sound but the wind in the bare and blackened trees. (p. 15).

However, some readers will hate the lack of “normal” dialogue and structure. But, for me, those elements re-enforced the story’s setting and characters.

They squatted in the road and ate cold rice and cold beans that they’d cooked days ago. Already beginning to ferment. No place to make a fire that would not be seen. They slept huddled together in the rank quilts in the dark and the cold. He held the boy close to him. So thin. My heart, he said. My heart. But he knew that if he were a good father still it might well be as she had said. That the boy was all that stood between him and death (p.29).

Everything worked together to paint a vivid, frightening image of the novel’s world and its inhabitants. The father’s and son’s devotion to one another illustrated the potency of love; its ability to feed a starving mind, body and soul.

Ultimately, despite its depressing portrayal of “humanity” in the aftermath of catastrophe, The Road showed me why I must always push forward and never give up.

What you might not like about The Road:

* McCarthy’s prose

* Its tone which is, appropriately so, depressing

* Graphic scenes of cannibalism

* No backstory on what caused the world to end; it is inferred. (Read this interview with McCarthy for a bit more info.)

Final thoughts

While The Road disturbed me a great deal, it also made me feel, think and wonder — the holy trinity of reading, for me anyway. This, my first experience with McCarthy, made me wish I hadn’t waited years to read his work.

2 Replies to “The Road by Cormac McCarthy

  1. “Holy trinity of reading.” I LIKE that, and often feel the same way.

    However, I don’t think The Road will do that for me right now. What I previously read and heard about this book just depressed me. But, after reading your post, I *may* read it. Some day. I’m just not ready for something like that right now.

    That said, though, huzzah to you for conquering it!

    1. I totally get that! And I think it’s why for the past couple months I haven’t been able to watch or read anything falling in the “depressing” category – still recuperating from The Road LOL.

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