First published in 2006, The Road is, without a doubt, a masterpiece, and one of the best post-apocalyptic fiction novels by the American serial sci-fi author Cormac McCarthy. The book is set in a ruinous, post-apocalyptic US southern wasteland over the seasonal change from later autumn to winter.
The Road is presented as a sweeping take on America’s future, so the novel is bleak, disturbing, and unashamedly lacks any consolation. McCarthy refuses to explain, or even mention, the immediate cause of the calamity that has befallen the world. He’s equally unspecific when it comes to identifying the characters, only using general monikers like “the boy” or “the man.”
Widely regarded as one of the greatest books of the twenty-first century, McCarthy’s The Road has won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, the Quill Award for General Fiction, the Pulitzer Prize, and Tähtivaeltaja Award, amongst many other accolades. The main characters in this science fiction thriller are distinguished by their unwavering resilience and their will for survival.
In The Road, McCarthy pushes the envelope when it comes to his favorite themes that unfold like Samuel Beckett’s Night of the Living Dead. The actual setting of this nightmarish tale is unspecified. In the aftermath of the apocalypse, the country is covered in layers of soot, ash, and cremated corpses.
Scavenging through the ruined wasteland is a father-son pair. The dad has a dim recollection of the world as it used to be and often dreams of the joys of the bygone days. The son, on his end, was born just before the apocalypse happened, so he barely knows both the old and new worlds. The man’s wife decided to commit suicide instead of facing the horrifying realities of the post-apocalyptic world.
As they forage to fend for themselves, the father and son regard themselves as the “good guys”, while most of the other cannibalistic survivors, the eaters of babies, are “bad guys”. To ensure survival, the two must always keep moving across the wasteland, in which the fire has destroyed everything except the sun.
In their journey to the coast, the young boy turns out to be the tale’s moral compass. The father-son relationship in the novel has a harmony that mirrors all that’s good in a devastated world in which traditional concepts of evil and good have been blurred. They come across a few bouts of reprieves from the disparaging world, including a refreshing waterfall and morel mushrooms blooming in the forest.
There’s plenty of horrors, too, including confronting a caravan of blood-thirsty armed gangs and stumbling upon a man dying from burn wounds. They managed to make out alive, albeit after killing one of the murderous men in front of his child. The Road encompasses their profoundly bleak and moving journey. It daringly imagines a futuristic world where all hope has been lost but the father’s love for his son.
In this respect, The Road provides an unsettling commentary about the best and the worst that humankind is capable of: the love that sustains two people, the will to survive, hopelessness, and ultimate destructiveness. Despite careering through bleakness, the unspeakable horror, and despair, the book does infuse some glimmers of humor.
Even though McCarthy has switched to simple and shorter sentences, his prose blends the unforgettable poetic images with the tempo of prophecy. Still, The Road is compelling, lyrical, horrifyingly beautiful, and brilliantly written. But don’t expect it to be a fun and exciting read; on the contrary, the story is relentlessly dark, heart-wrenching, and plays strongly on our basic instinct to love and protect our little ones by all means.
You can feel that the father’s sense of isolation, dread, fear, and despair is almost tangible. However, that’s what makes McCarthy one of the most revered authors of post-apocalyptic fiction. In fact, if you’re looking for a science fiction novel that is so beautiful, so terrifying, and so powerful that you’re left stunned at the end, then this is it.
To summarize, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is not just a tirelessly bleak novel; it’s also about the human will to survive and love, so strangely life-affirming and compelling. If you’re a fan of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, you’ll love how it’s both a cautionary and an inspirational tale. Seldom will you be able to find a perfect blend of the two emotions in a single read! All that a great sci-fi novel can do is right here in this masterpiece!