by: Jason Waddell
Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Road occupies arguably the most cliched setting in modern fiction: the post-apocalypse. The world has burned to a crisp, and the remaining survivors live on by scavenging for canned goods among long-abandoned houses and grocery stores. Violence rules the land, and just as Ned Stark had warned, winter is coming. The Road follows a nameless father and son dredging southward en route to the promise of warmth and opportunity at the coast.
Although the plot and setting are central to the novel, they primarily serve as a vessel for delivering the relationship between a father and boy struggling to survive unfathomable elements. The book is structured without chapters, presented as an endless sequence of vignettes from their journey. One such vignette:
He’d put a handfull of dried raisins in a cloth in his pocket and at noon they sat in the dead grass by the side of the road and ate them. The boy looked at him. That’s all there is, isn’t it? he said.
Are we going to die now?
What are we going to do?
We’re going to drink some water. Then we’re going to keep going down the road.
The book’s 300 pages flesh out this relationship, and McCarthy imbues the relationship between nameless father and son with exceptional depth. The bond feels intimate, yet the characters are vague enough to afford the reader a great sense of personal empathy. The man is the every man, following his basic instincts to protect his child.
The specific details of the plot are largely irrelevant. The structure is known from the onset.
Ultimately even the journey to the coast is futile. There is no end game, just a haunting display of humanity in the face of unbeatable odds.
The book is well-presented, but is neither a page-turner nor something I would particularly recommend to readers who are looking for plot-based satisfaction. It’s the type of book that makes you hug your children when you set it down. As a childless bachelor I felt like I was missing out on part of the core readership experience.