The Road, make no mistake, is very bleak. It begins bleak; it ends bleak. The world Cormac McCarthy thrusts us into is a world where civilization has ceased to exist. Its last gasps, living solely as memories and habits in the few people remaining, are snuffed out one by one, steadily hurtling the planet’s surface into a state of total desolation.
Our main characters are never named. The boy and the man (whom we know as Papa) are walking towards something – towards somewhere. They don’t even know where it is they’re going or if they’ll even recognize it when they get there, but they have to keep moving, all the way to the end.
As I read this book, I am filled with deep anxiety. The reviews I have read have been a mix of highest praise and profound criticism, but I can’t say anything without first mentioning how deeply uncomfortable I feel when reading this book. This book succeeds at painting the ashen, grey tasting their hubris for centuries past. Who the hell do we think we are, anyway? We think we know and that we can control it, and this book is a good example of what it might feel like when you’re reminded, quite brutally, that you’re just along for the ride.
We aren’t sure how the apocalypse came about in The Road, and I find it best as the details of the how/why/when don’t clutter up the gaping maw of the impending eternal extinction of the human race. But the boy and the man travel through the lands battered insidiously by ash. Ash permeates absolutely everything. Their hair, the rain, the atmosphere, their breath… It can’t be avoided. Sunlight can’t break through the ash in the air, and the rain will try its best to clean what it can, but never to any significant degree.
I read and I find myself wondering how the characters are going to find the golden island of freedom, far from these harsh elements and living conditions. No hope of long-lasting amnesty in sight, page after page, encounter after encounter, night after night. There are little bites and sips of mercy, but nothing permanent, and each day feels like a half step forward only to slide back 200 steps soon after.
Bleak. So bleak. Coughing. Lungs infiltrated by the guck. The man knows he’ll have to make a choice whether or not to allow the boy to be alone in this world without him after he’s gone. The hard choices have to be made whether to hold on to the human condition of hope for a better day or to exercise mercy from a world that wants to hammer you down for daring to have hope in the first place?
I finished this book both depressed as hell (tho really glad it was over) and impressed by the totality of blackness enveloping me. I’m going to be haunted by this for a while. Better go find something light and airy to follow up with.