By Cormac McCarthy
Grade Levels: 9-12
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is not what I would call a pleasant read, but it is an emotionally fulfilling one. Some of you may be familiar with the film adaptation of the same name, released in 2009. The book was published only a few years before, in 2006, to rave reviews. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for 2007 and James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction in 2006. Post apocalyptic fiction is usually dark, but it often uses that dark setting to explore broader social or political themes. The Handmaid’s Tale, which was recently adopted into a TV series with a fifth season in the works, is a classic of this social-commentary post apocalyptic subgenre. That’s not the case here. What The Road does is strip the genre down to its fundamentals in order to create something granular and intensely personal. The setting of The Road is extremely minimal - we’re never told what caused the world to become the way it is depicted. We’re not even given names for the main characters. Instead, we’re left to focus on the relationship between them - a father and son. The result is a novel that divorces us from the characters’ history or context and leaves us just as adrift in the world as they are.
The plot of the novel focuses, as you might intuit from the title, on the main characters’ journey. The father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. Realizing they cannot survive the winter in more northern latitudes, the father takes the boy south along interstate highways towards the sea. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food - and each other.
Heartbreaking, raw, and coldly beautiful, the catharsis of The Road will leave you feeling alone, hollowed-out, and in awe of the immense love and cruelty of which we are capable. In the best tradition of the post-apocalyptic genre, The Road is a worthwhile read for anyone who wants to experience literature as a lens into what makes us human - good and bad.