The setting of the Road is your worst nightmare come alive. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, humanity has been doomed to extinction, with only a few scattered remnants of the once proud human race remaining. And ash. Ash is everywhere. It covers the sky and the world both, leaving everything gray and dead. In the center of this lifeless and nihilistic setting is a father and his young son, “each the other’s world entire” who are trying desperately to survive in this world where survival seems unlikely. There is simply nothing left at all. Not a thing.
And yet the Father and Son continue to persist, with the former doing everything humanly possible and then some to keep both himself and his son alive. Their interactions are often such that if you were to read a few conversations between them and nothing else, you might not think this was a post-apocalyptic novel, but just the everyday life of father and his young son. The love these two have for one another is undying, and that is part of what sustains both them (and the reader) as they trudge through the utterly bleak and lifeless wasteland that was once the world. There is nothing exciting or adventurous about this particular post-apocalyptic world. What precious few other humans there are, rightly dubbed “The Bad Guys” by the ever-innocent boy, have resorted to cannibalism, which goes to outright barbaric and appalling extremes near the end of the novel. Indeed, this novel is not for the squeamish or overly-sensitive, as the book shows both the absolute best and worst t hat humans are capable of in equal measure.
Cormac McCarthy’s writing style in this book is atypical of what one usually finds in a novel. There are no quotation marks or commas, which can make knowing when characters are talking a little hard initially, but you’ll know when characters are speaking after a while. The writing style helps to add a feeling of bleakness and emptiness, as here in this nightmarish vision of the future, even most punctuation marks have been lost.
And yet for all of this being a world in which no hope remains, the story’s tone is ultimately idealistic. It shows how a father and a son’s love for one another sustains them both through the worst and most miserable of conditions, and how neither ever gives up the other. The boy in particular never loses his idealism, even when bearing witness to the worst of humanity. I will not spoil the ending, but I will say that it is not what one might expect coming into the novel. And in the end I believe that it is the best kind of ending a book like this can have.
If you can stomach the bleakness and at times monstrous actions of surviving humans, “The Road” is a good read, showing again, the best and worst that we are capable of, and one of the strongest pieces of proof there is that dark and cynical are by no means the same thing.