The Road

I finished reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy recently. The book chronicles a boy and his father wandering across a post apocalyptic world. The reader never gets a reason for the apocalypse, only its aftermath. The location of the boy and his father remain a mystery as well. Both the cause and the location of the apocalypse don’t matter here, what is important is that there is no hope left.

McCarthy paints a grim landscape. Ash covers the earth, each steps dispersing more into the air. There is no life left, nothing to hunt, plant or animal. Every person that’s left seems to have become a cannibal, eating what’s left of the surviving people (the man and the boy hunt for canned food in old houses). The two characters are the focal point of the book, particularly their relationship. The things that happen to them throughout are extraneous to the changes in the boy and the father. That is, what happens in the plot is secondary to the moving changes and sways in the father-son relationship.

The son is constantly asking to find “the good guys”, asking the father if they exist. The one underlying feature of “good guys” in the child’s mind is that they don’t eat people. That’s about it. It paints an agonizing picture of the boy’s psyche.

The man and the boy depend on each other to stay alive. It is referenced throughout the book that the man would have ended his life if the boy were not there. They spend most of the book heading towards the coast for no particular reason, other than the slim chance of warmer weather. Their destinations are merely reasons to keep walking in the hopeless wasteland. the man tells the boy things will be better on the coast, and he doesn’t believe this.

The book seems to go no where but is still touching. It is about the love of a father for his child in spite of deep hopelessness. McCarthy does his usual macabre show but twists it into an agonizing sweetness. You care for both the boy and the man until the very end, but have no real hope for them. It leaves you wanting a future for both of them somehow, but knowing McCarthy is too committed to the dark to allow for this. He’ll let you have morsels of the good before drowning you in despair again.

McCarthy has fascinated me lately. I enjoy his unrelenting exposure of raw humanity, a kind of bare confession of the worst of the human spirit. But it also wears heavy on me after a while, burdening me with horrors I know exist but I don’t like. He still manages to draw you in completely, he has touched something very human in this book and his other work, some humanity harder to find in some books than others. I find him hard to shake.

~ by Barky on August 1, 2011.

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