First published back in September of 2006, American author Cormac McCarthy’s novel ‘The Road’ became an instant hit with the public and critics alike. The novel was awarded with the James Tait Black Memorial Prize For Fiction in 2006 and then the following year the Pulitzer Prize For Fiction.
A film adaptation of the novel, directed by John Hillcoat and starring Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee was released early in November of 2009.
With the cold grip of winter cutting into them, father and son begin their treacherous journey southwards, in a hope of reaching warmer regions within the desolate landscape of the what remains of the United States. Wherever they go, life is on the very brink of utter extinction; a seemingly constant layer of ash covering everything. The sun hidden behind thick clouds of noxious black soot.
Their search to a more habitable climate is one shared with the continuing hope of finding other such survivors. Survivors who have not yet been reduced to barbaric acts of violence, cruelty and cannibalism. And in their endearing manner, the father and son refer to these (so far somewhat illusive) people who they hope to one day find as ‘the good guys’. People whose presence on the Earth seems somewhat minimal against the multitude of survivors who have adopted a far more cruel path for their own survival.
As they travel southwards their days are scavenging for food and any useful tools along their slow journey. Starvation is a constant threat that hangs over them; with food now incredibly scarce, and all natural produce completely vanished from the desecrated grounds around them.
The man’s son knows no other world; however the man is haunted by memories of life before this horrendous apocalypse desecrated the land. His wife (the boy’s mother) killed herself many years ago; her lingering image still playing with his emotions within his dreams each night.
It soon becomes apparent that their most direct route across this unforgiving landscape is via a road that slices across the dying fields and woodland. However, with the road comes danger. Other survivors will be using this route; and many of these are far from what they would refer to as ‘the good guys’.
Their life is hard, their journey fraught with danger, and hunger is always on their back. And the man’s promise to always protect his son will be put to the test almost at every corner of their soul-destroying journey along this treacherous and danger-filled road...
From the outset, McCarthy sets down the hopelessness of life within this desolate and dying world with such an emotive heart portraying the bleakness of the premise that it is hard not to be moved by the sheer despair that is being projected. With each footstep that the pair takes on their bitter journey southwards, the author continues with a heart-wrenching dialogue between the two that masterfully encapsulates their cold and uncaring surroundings.
Although the plot and their premise is somewhat of a singular and simplistic nature (simply that of a journey south and nothing more), McCarthy dances upon the readers’ nerves with an unrelenting barrage of events and encounters to keep up the constant threat of the danger the two are always up against. Many of these encounters result in savage depictions of the cruelty that now occurs as a day-to-day occurrence, and indeed as a desperate choice of survival for many. These brutal passages are shocking in their blank-faced reality of the situation and the barbaric lengths man will go to in order to simply survive. Each and every one is another harrowing brushstroke towards McCarthy’s portrait of utter despair in a world that is gradually dying.
The writing style itself is cold and blunt, with no emphasis given to the actual act of speech or any larger more defining breakdown of the novel such as with chapters or the like. This constant text without any true breaks mirrors the almost endless nature of the pair’s journey. For them, there are no breaks in their struggle for survival (well…maybe one), which is then subtly reflected in the actual reading of the text.
The strength of the novel is not found within the simplicity of the plot, nor is it found within the numerous events that the pair are forced to encounter on their way south. What makes ‘The Road’ such a dramatic and gripping tale that claws the reader into the bitterly unforgiving post-apocalyptic world is the constant confrontation of the reality of this new world that the author never once lets up on from the moment the tale first begins. Each movement, each word spoken and each breath taken is one in which it is portrayed in opposition to this utterly ravaged world. Every can of food found is a triumph in the face of starvation. Every implement or tool discovered along their way is a further chance at easing the daily pain of their survival. Nothing is taken for granted anymore. And with that, each can of food lost or tool that is broken is an emotionally shattering event that hits the reader in the face like a sledgehammer swung in a cold and uncaring blizzard of soot.
McCarthy repeatedly wallows in the prospect of the pair’s eventual demise, along with that of the rest of humanities. Indeed, the question is asked and asked and then asked again, as to what is the point in merely existing when there is nothing left of a future? The characters ultimately find comfort in the simplicity of their companionship alone. This in turn leads to numerous emotionally heavy and heart-wrenching dialogues between the father and son, with conversation cut so bare that each and every word seems to reverberate across the desolate landscape.
Taken as a whole, the novel is a monumental journey into what makes us humans, playing with questions and emotions across a bleak canvas of desperation. Broken down into the basic story segments, the novel is a purposeful vision of one of the most desolate and unforgiving worlds ever envisioned. The text is harsh in its depictions of humanities desperation as well as at the same time being warming in the comfort of a truly beautiful father-son companionship.
The novel runs for a total of 307 pages.
© DLS Reviews