A man and his son wander through an ash-filled America. The apocalypse has happened and the entire world is cold, gray, and lifeless. There are no animals. There are few people, and those that exist are likely planning to kill you and steal everything you own. It isn’t an atmosphere to raise a child in, but the man has no choice. He must keep himself and his son alive, must keep them moving, even though he isn’t sure what’s out there to live for.
What a dark, creepy read this was. There isn’t a single happy moment in this book. Virtually the whole of the narrative consists of the man and his son, neither of whom have a destination in mind, trying to find food, get warm, and avoid any of the other people, or creatures, wandering the road with them. It seems as though the world burst into flames, but the actual cause of the apocalypse is never made clear. At one point the boy and man run into another survivor, but he clearly states that they have no common cause because they did not survive together. This really made me wonder exactly what happens – but McCarthy never tells us.
He also never tells us anything about the evil that stalk the land, simply that they’re there. These creatures – I assumed they were vampires or something like that – eat people. Adding to the pervasive feel of danger is the endless fall of ash and the constant corpses they come across everywhere. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it must have been for the boy; we’re never told how old he is, but he wasn’t alive before the apocalypse happened. He has never experienced the world as his father has.
Miraculously, though, he still has a sense of good, a desire to help people, which is simultaneously childish and incredibly wise. Out of the literal ashes of the world, a good spirit has risen, and even though the rest of the book is dark I would never say that all hope was lost, even when I worried that they were close to death. Even more hopeful is the fact that the father and the boy clearly still love each other and strive to live even when it looks like all is lost. The power of the human spirit is incredible and is in large part a reason we can still care for and worry about these characters in a world that is otherwise unrecognizable and terrifying.
The Road was completely different than I expected, but almost more powerful in its own way. The air of mystery lent it terror, but the relationship between the boy and his father is really at the heart of this novel. Recommended.
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