Review: The Road

The Road, Cormac McCarthy. New York: Vintage Books, 2007.

Summary: A dystopian story of a father and son helping each other survive in a post-nuclear America, scavenging for food and avoiding murderous mobs.

The man. The boy. The road. One’s life in backpacks and a grocery cart.

Using an old map to walk back roads to the South and warmth when there is no heat.

Evading murderous gangs who kill and eat their victims.

Searching every dwelling for any scrap of food. A fallout shelter unused stocked richly. Can’t stay long for the risk of being discovered.

A lone boy. He has someone, he can’t go with us. He’ll be OK. Really? Really.

Ash everywhere. Rains smell of ash. Snow is gray. A gray, sullen landscape under gray skies. Nothing alive.

Nights under tarps, shivering in each other’s grasp, trying to stay warm, yet hidden.

A cough. Worsening. Spitting up blood. Must protect the boy.

We carry the fire.

This is The Road. Not a happy story. One to give anyone who thinks a nuclear holocaust survivable. This strikes me a good rendition of what “survival” would be like.

It reveals the heart of darkness that emerges when the structures of civilization fail. Yet it also reveals the bond of a father and son, the eternal flame of hope, or will against all despair to live captured in the words, “we carry the fire.” It recognizes a goodness that will not die (“we are the good guys”) even if this means that you will only kill and not eat the enemy who threatens you. Yet it is a world where you are wary of any human beings, the few who remain. Are there any other “good guys?”

It makes one think of what we have seen during the pandemic, when a virus and a polarizing president have threatened the social fabric–violent mobs in the streets, and roving the Capitol. Plots to seize and kill health officials and governors and even vice presidents. Elevated gun violence. Car jackings. Neighbor fighting neighbor over the refusal to don a mask. What do we need to see that the fabric of society is more fragile than we imagined? The Road may not be so far off as we think.

8 thoughts on “Review: The Road

  1. Good comments, Bob. McCarthy, in my opinion, is a great writer. He’s still alive – at 96. Have you read ‘Blood Meridian’ (1985)?

    Raw and brutal, and not for everyone, but powerful.

  2. My review on Goodreads:
    Often dark and repetitive, but effective

    I decided to pick this back up during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have found that dystopian literature helps me feel better about current circumstances.

    This was my first read of McCarthy. His style is unique and reminds me of perhaps some classic American literature authors. Settings, situations, and dialogue were often repetitive, but that’s what real life is like. Perhaps even more so when there are endless days of only conversing with one other person.

    The dialogue and every other element in the narrative was straight to point. I enjoyed this as it felt organic. Instead of me as the reader being bogged down in details, the book almost read itself.

    I feel I should end by restating that the story was often dark and frequently repetitive, but maybe that is what the end of the world looks like. I’m glad that I read it at this time. In a way that’s hard to explain, it was comforting.

  3. I first read “the Road” many years ago, and it is one of those stories that haunts you for a long time. I wish I could come up with a counter point to your closing paragraph, but sadly, the tenuous current state of our society does not hold a promise for the future well being of our people.

  4. This was on my Christmas list the year published. I began reading that day & finished that but book “stuck” with me for a very long time. My daughter tried reading but gave up. She said it was too depressing & would rather read a biography.

    • I can see how some would not want to read this. Not a happy book but the father-son relationship in a post-nuclear world was powerful. Actually quite believable, making it all the more sobering.

  5. Pingback: The Month In Reviews: February 2021 | Bob on Books

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