Author: Cormac McCarthy
Published: Vintage Books (2006); a division of Random House, Inc.
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
This might be the first time I've ever read a book that was on Oprah's Book Club. Unless, of course, Drew Carey's Dirty Jokes and Beer was on her reading list. Was it? No? Alright, The Road is the first for me then. And while I'm not sure there will come a day when I say Oprah Winfrey and I share the same tastes, when it comes to this novel by Cormac McCarthy, we are agreed: It's amazing.
The first sentence on the back cover's summary lures the reader instantly, I believe--"A father and his son walk alone through burned America." Literal and allegorical, the two characters in this tale trudge through a burned out husk of land that used to be America. It's a post-apocalyptic story told from the most intimate of viewpoints, as a father does all he can to keep his child safe in a land barren of resources or compassion.
The cause of the world's end is never explained, but the imagery of ashen snow and desiccated remains provide for plenty of speculation. The precipitating factors leading to the fall of society are almost moot, really. What's done is done and now the father must be the little boy's sole beacon through the unforgiving ruins that surround them. They're vagabonds on a trek westward to a place even the father is unsure is waiting for them. While the father can still remember pieces of a time before everything turned gray and lifeless, this dystopia is all the son has ever known. Or ever will know.
McCarthy's writing in this work resembles the bleakness of the environment he's created for his characters. Stripped to the bones, we see this world through the father's eyes, and even as the father sees it through his son's eyes. It's gripping, and with no chapters--only a singular unending narrative--I found myself reluctant to put the book down at night. Everything about the story slowly throttles you, and even when the miraculous bits of good fortune meet the father and son, you know the moments resembling happiness are fleeting.
You might expect such a story to contain a villain for the heroes of the tale to conquer, but this isn't that kind of story. They do fight for their lives at times and cross paths with unsavory characters, but there are no nefarious overlords waiting in the wings for them. The abandonment of civility and community is their enemy, as the father must wrestle against his relentless will to ensure his son's well-being against the pieces of morality that still cling to his soul. How far will a father go to protect the one thing left he lives? The Road gives you a glimpse and the answer isn't pretty.
The Road could be classified as science-fiction for the near-future setting and prophetic look of a world turned to ash, and it could be classified as horror for the suspense and direful moments the characters must endure--two genres I'm sure McCarthy would prefer to keep at a distance from his work. At the end of the day, however, how about I just classify it with the word I used at the beginning of the review. It's amazing.