Book Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

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.

the road

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.

12 thoughts on “Book Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

  1. There are many roads we travel, and many seem bleak. Yet, we search for reasons to believe. I’ve read both The Road and No Country for Old Men. I’m also glad that I did. I recommend you read the latter, but it’s a gruesome tale. Peace, to you, Michelle!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read The Road years ago and I still think of it often. Have you read Station Eleven? Can’t remember the authors full name but that is another post apocalypse book that has also stayed with me. I started watching the movie/mini series. I always say that this genre doesn’t appeal to me but…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Deb! Yes, I read and really liked Station 11. I reviewed it a while back. Paul actually subscribed to HBO just so he could watch the series, but I didn’t watch it with him. He said it’s pretty good. Hope you liked it.


  3. I read The Road years ago – still think of it often – what a powerful book. I agree with your comments about parenthood. It’s hard not to imagine doing absolutely everything we could to keep our kids alive and bring them to a better place.

    My recent “Irish author” book was 56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard, a fabulous crime writer from Cork. It is set during the early days of the pandemic when Ireland’s strict COVID lockdown provides the perfect opportunity for a young couple’s budding romance… and more. Highly recommended!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I read Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy and it was well-written but a sad memoir of a woman who had a rare childhood cancer that she manages to survive but then never escapes from pain of the disfigurement it brings. Discovering that the author eventually dies of a heroin overdose at the age of 39 was rough. Not the ideal read, but no regrets in reading it.

    I’m sure The Road is a powerful read too, and I appreciate your review, as always. But I think I’ll search for something cheerful with my next read. I sure could use it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I read The Road several years ago, and while I thought it was a great read, it was difficult to say I “enjoyed it”. I liked your thoughts about looking at it as a story about the lengths a parent would go to for their child. Which was inspiring. But the end times scenario was a bit dark for me. That being said, I would still say it is a great read.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for agreeing to read one of my favorite books! I read it years ago and loved it. I don’t own many books but this one I did. That is, until a friend of ours came to visit and took it with him (Pete)! He liked it too. I really enjoyed reading it a second time and found it just as powerful. It is bleak, stark, and dark but ultimately it’s a story of love. As you said, McCarthy’s writing style is so powerful that it makes the reader feel as if they are in the story as well. You can see the gloom and feel the cold and wet. He says so much in so few words. That’s a true gift and it reminds me of Hemingway’s style.

    What I also think is impressive about this book is that it is about basic survival. There’s no room for fluff or anything other than the bare necessities. And McCarthy adopts this theme in to his writing style. There’s no names, no chapters, heck there’s not even apostrophes except for when needed for clarification. It’s bare bones writing for a bare bones story and the effect is perfect. It’s not a “feel good” story but it is a read that leaves quite a powerful impression.

    I’ve also read Blood Meridian and No Country For Old Men by McCarthy but this is by far my favorite. One of these days I’m going to get to All The Pretty Horses.

    Liked by 1 person

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