Cormac McCarthy,
The Road
(Knopf, 2006)

The Road is a work of stunning, savage, heartbreaking beauty. Set in the post-apocalyptic hell of an unending nuclear winter, Cormac McCarthy writes about a nameless man and his young son, wandering through a world gone crazy -- bleak, cold, dark, where the snow falls down gray -- looking somewhere, anywhere, for life and warmth. Nothing grows in this blasted world; people turn into cannibals to survive. The boy's mother is a suicide, unable to face living in a world where everything's gone gray and dead. The man and his son are "each the other's world entire" -- they have only each other, they live for each other, and their intense love for each other will help them survive. At least for a while.

But survival in this brave new world is a dicey prospect at best; the boy and the man are subjected to sights no one should ever have to see. Every day is a scavenger hunt for food and shelter and safety from the "bad guys," the marauding gangs who enslave the weak and resort to cannibalism for lack of any other food. We are the good guys, the man assures his son. Yet in their rare encounters with other living human beings, the man resorts to primitive survivalism, refusing help to a lost child and a starving man, living only for himself and his son, who is trying to hold onto whatever humanity he has left.

Their journey to the coast is an unending nightmare through the depths of hell and the only thing that holds them together is their love for each other. When one is ready to give up, the other refuses to let him. I won't let you go into the darkness alone, the man reassures his son. But ultimately, as the boy finds out, everyone is on his own, and all you can do is keep on keeping on.

The word "masterpiece" has been done to death, but this book is surely McCarthy's; with a style as bleak as the stripped terrain the man and the boy travel through, but each sentence polished as a gem, he takes us into the harsh reality of a dying world. He never says what caused this cataclysm, and it really doesn't matter; the past is gone, dead as the landscape all around them, and the present is the only reality. And deep down the man knows there is nothing better to hope for down the road, even though he keeps them both slogging on toward it, only to keep his son alive. There is no later, McCarthy says. This is later.

Living in such a hell, why would anyone want to survive? The mother made her decision; she checked out long ago. But as long as there is love, McCarthy tells us, maybe there is something to live for, and as the book shows us at the end, maybe there is a even little bit of hope.

by Judy Lind
30 December 2006

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