Everything I had ever heard about Cormac MacCarthy’s The Road:
“Prepare to be depressed.”
That’s it. Though it feels like dozens of people gave me that warning.
The Road tells the story of a man who is traversing a post-apocalyptic landscape with a single but very explicit goal – to protect his young son from the dangers of this barren and cruel world. Exactly what has put the land we know in this horrible state is a mystery to us. What wars occurred? What natural disasters took place? These things we don’t know. Things have taken place that have ravaged civilization and turned one man against another. We are given no background on how this place got to this state.
And we don’t need it.
Because there’s one thing that we do know. And it’s that, more than anything else, this man loves his son, and will do anything to ensure his safety. The story isn’t about disasters or the destruction of civilization, it’s about the lengths this man will go to in order to protect his boy.
In between the action of their quests and series of escapes, there is a very effective dialogue between the father and son. There’s something very real about the boy’s thoughts and ideas. MacCarthy never falls into the trap of writing the kid as kids are normally written, either so sweet and cutesy, or so wise for their years that they’re no longer believable. When the boy is scared, he says so. When the father makes a decision that the boy doesn’t understand, he doesn’t yell out in dramatic defiance. Instead, he becomes quiet. Often, it takes a bit of time before feelings come to the surface and can work toward resolution. It’s moments like this that make this relationship work so well in the story.
When I finished the book, I was almost surprised that I wasn’t depressed. The story is indeed bleak and dark. But the characters of the father and the son, and their drive to survive, protect, and live was actually kind of uplifting to me.