The Road is Cormac McCarthy’s epic, Pulitzer Prize-winning story of man trying to keep himself and his son alive in a bleak post-apocalyptic world.
I read The Road as part of the 2022 Thoughtful Reading Challenge. March’s challenge was to read a book by an Irish-American author in honor of Irish-American Heritage Month. I had been hesitant about reading The Road because of its subject matter and reputation, but I’m so glad I finally got over my angst. That’s the great thing about a reading challenge – it can get you out of your comfort zone!
When the story opens, “the man” and “the boy” (we never learn their names) are traveling south on a road, trying to reach the coast. They are in the mountains, where everything is burned out and covered with ash and sooty snow. Nothing is alive except some human survivors, it’s perpetually cold and the sun is always behind a curtain of haze.
The man and his son have been survivors of the apocalypse for many years, and they have been reduced to pushing a shopping cart filled with their meager belongings, scouring empty houses for canned food, and sleeping in the woods in the cold, damp leaves.
They can’t trust anyone – people have gone feral and are preying on other survivors. They are wholly dependent on each other for survival. And this is the crux of the story.
At its heart, The Road is about the strong love between the father and the son, and the great lengths a father will go to protect his son and keep him alive in the face of terrible odds.
Sometimes I wondered if the father was doing the right thing. By keeping his son alive, was he just condemning him to a joyless life of misery? Maybe the long journey symbolized his unflagging hope that there was a place in the wasted world where he and his son could carve out a decent life?
As a parent, I found myself frequently thinking about what I would do if I were in the father’s shoes, and I concluded that I would do the same (although I never liked camping, so I wouldn’t last very long). It’s hard to blame a parent for savoring every moment he can with his child, and hoping they’ll find a better life down the road.
It was interesting to compare this post-apocalyptic world to something like The Walking Dead, where they can still grow food and just need to outrun really slow-moving zombies to survive. Although the source of the destruction isn’t revealed, it seems to have been a nuclear war. And it threw the world into a cold, gray winter that the author described so well that I was often surprised when I looked up from the book and saw sunlight streaming in my window. I’m pretty sure this is what the end of the world will look like. (Sorry, zombies)
Cormac McCarthy’s prose is poetic, and he wrote the interactions between father and son so simply and yet so powerfully. It’s easy to see how The Road won a Pulitzer. I highly recommend it and want to read more of McCarthy’s novels. Any suggestions?
How about you? Did you read a book by an Irish-American author this month? Please tell us all about it in the comments section.
**Reminder: April’s challenge is to read a book about the outdoors or that mostly takes place outside. And the bonus challenge is to donate new children’s books to a local charity.