The Road is probably the worst book I could have chosen to read on the week before my son’s Bar Mitzvah.
McCarthy tells the story of the journey of a father and son across America, westwards towards the sea. Following an unspecified catastrophe – probably a nuclear holocaust or a global warming disaster – humanity is almost wiped out entirely, as are most species. The few humans still alive are organised mostly into bands of cannibals hunting other humans for survival. The landscape is desolate and covered with ash, no plants grow and the sun is obscured by dark clouds. This catastrophe happened years ago and the boy was born shortly thereafter, so this is the world he knows. His mother committed suicide, after she lost all hope, blaming the father he had no courage to do the right thing. The father agonises over his decision to “carry the fire” and wonders whether he’ll have the courage to kill his own son if worse comes to worst.
Reading this book literally made me feel sick. I had no idea this is what I was getting into; I bought the book because I read somewhere that McCarthy is worthy of a nobel prize. The writing is surprisingly simple and non-pretentious, adding to the overwhelming effect of the story. The horror scenes come out of nowhere and are like a punch in the stomach. I’m not going to go into much detail about the plot as I resolved to try and forget this book the minute I finished reading it.
Fat chance; this is a book that will haunt the reader for a long time, especially if the reader is a father to a small boy.