Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road tells the story of a father and son as they struggle to survive in an apocalyptic world not too unlike our own. The sun doesn’t shine, food is scarce, and few people have survived—yet our protagonists travel onward, relentlessly trudging along the same never-ending road. Filled with a desperate hope that is unexpectedly infectious, The Road follows the father and son as they attempt to survive against all odds.
One can’t help but be immediately struck by McCarthy’s unusual narration style while reading The Road. At first his abandonment of quotation marks and apostrophes was jarring, but over time I realized how well it suits the story. It seems like a reflection of how desolate the father and his son’s world has become: not even voices can survive, hence the lack of quotation marks in their dialogue. The best way I can describe the narration is that it feels like a sort of stream of consciousness in third person. It is intimate and detached at the same time, making the reader feel simultaneously included and ostracized. Such a unique writing style makes for a reading experience that is both bizarre and incredibly fascinating.
A major strength of The Road is its careful balance of detail and ambivalence. McCarthy explains enough to answer the basic important questions but doesn’t provide an answer to everything the reader might be wondering. For instance, throughout the novel we learn more about the boy’s mother and why she isn’t with them now; however, we aren’t told exactly what happened to cause such a drastic change on Earth. I think too many dystopian novels make the mistake of outlining catastrophic events that the actual story suffers and is lost along the way. It was nice to not have to worry about understanding exactly what caused the “end of the world” as we know it; rather, all you can do as a reader is focus on the future of these characters. In a way, this forward-looking mindset helped me connect with the characters more, especially with the little boy. He has no memory of what the world was like before or during the transition from “before” to his “now,” much like the reader has very little knowledge of what happened in that transitional period.
Speaking of the little boy, I was surprised by the suspense and depth of this novel considering it mainly focuses on only two characters. It never feels as though it is lacking in anything; instead, the McCarthy is able to bring out the personalities of the father and his son more strongly than if there were a larger cast of characters. There is an unexpected sense of intimacy in this novel, as though these characters are allowing us to view sides of them that no one else sees. Whether they’re at rock bottom or sky-high, we’re taken into their world and shown their vulnerability, faults, and hidden desires. Don’t let the character-driven nature of this novel fool you—it’s still an engaging, suspenseful page-turner that becomes harder and harder to put down as you read.
One of the only aspects of The Road that I feel lukewarm about is the ending. The final scene makes sense when thinking about the rest of the novel, but the more emotional reader in me desperately wishes it had ended differently. It gives the reader some closure, but is it enough? I suppose that up to the individual to decide.
Overall, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was a much more emotional, intimate, heart-wrenching novel than I initially expected it to be. There is certainly suspense, action, and even a bit of mystery, but what makes this novel memorable is the emphasized relationship between the father and his son. Their relationship is like the blood pumping through this story or the thread binding these pages together. Whether you’re interested in this novel for the characters, plot, or general premise, I highly recommend picking up The Road.
Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes!
What are your thoughts on The Road? Are there any other books by Cormac McCarthy that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!