The nights were blinding cold and casket black and the long reach of the morning had a terrible silence to it. Like a dawn before battle. (137)
It’s probably fair to call The Road a perfect novel. It goes to the very edge of the precipice: death, destruction, annihilation. The two characters who populate the story are at the very end of the road. The title suggests some kind of Kerouacian journey to fun-loving beatnik enlightenment, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Road is neither fun-loving, nor beatnik. There is possibly enlightenment, but the tiny candle of hope the book holds out is dim indeed. McCarthy goes as far as it is possible to go in literature – stripping the characters’ world bare until there’s nothing left but metaphor. The result is as beautiful as it is painful.
It takes about ten pages to reveal, in patches of bleak discovery for the reader, that the landscape that the two characters of this novel inhabit is a post-apocalyptic one. Everything is burnt, ash-covered, with corpses everywhere. The two main characters of this novel, a father and his son, are on the run, hiding from gangs of vicious ‘bloodcult’ cannibals looking to capture, enslave and eat anyone left alive. They are also in search of something, but it’s never quite clear what: someplace to stay; some group which is overtly good and safe. They follow a broken “tattered oilcompany roadmap” towards the southern ocean.
But the landscape is unforgiving. Starvation is always at hand. Their lives are only safe in the temporary serendipity of what they might happen upon with their wrecked shopping trolley, protected by no more than a single bullet. There are overtones of Mad Max — the black humour of wild, comically dressed road gangs — but the relationship between the nameless father and son is so tender, so sad, and so full of the longing of the world that no longer exists, that every word of the book is wrought. And at no point does the reader laugh. Even looking away from the continual horror is difficult.