Some time ago, a co-worker suggested a see a post-apocalyptic film starring Viggo Mortensen called The Road. He even lent me a copy of the film to ensure I would see it. I was impressed, thinking it both artistic and chilling. When I discovered that the book was based on a book by Cormac McCarthy, I really wanted to check it out.
The Road takes place after some catastrophic event has burned much of the world that we live in. The main characters in this book are known only as Papa and the boy (his son). Papa has only one thing important in his life – keeping his son alive. Right now, that means keeping himself alive as well and teaching the boy as much as he can about the world and how to stay safe. As the book moves forward, we learn that there weren’t many that survived whatever apocalyptic event took place, but of those that did survive, many were of the unsavory variety.
As food begins to run out, many of these survivors become cannibals. Papa says that these people are the bad guys and they must avoid them at all costs because he and the boy are the good guys. The boy absorbs this well as he has no desire to eat people, but worries that there may be no good guys left in the world, a product of his father’s paranoia. This is especially worrisome as time spans and the supplies run out thanks to theft or just plain consumption and lack of supplies to scavenge.
There are quite a few close calls for the two, but it seems that things will eventually work out for them as they head toward the coast and find a shipwrecked boat full of supplies. But Papa has been keeping secrets from the boy – they will not always find food, their luck can eventually run out…and Papa may not always be there.
Cormac McCarthy chose an interesting way to write this book. It is mostly in the point of view of Papa with some flashbacks here and there giving us some insight into the past. But that’s not the most interesting aspect. For one thing, he chooses not to give the main players any names other than Papa and the boy. I think this may have been done to force concentration on what they are going through rather than who they are. McCarthy writes very brief paragraphs…snippets of time in this family’s life. He also leaves out punctuation and apostrophes quite often, as if the story is the only thing that matters, not the structure of its telling.
This bare bones sort of writing forces the reader to focus on the situation itself. Because the characters have no names, the reader can easily place themselves in the role of Papa. Could you do what he is forced to do to keep his son alive? Would you have the wherewithal to survive as long as he has? What about the gun Papa has and the worry that he will not be able to pull the trigger on his own son should the necessity arise? Would you be able to?
Despite having seen the film, I found myself on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen to the pair. So captivated by the story was I that I was loathe to put the book down. The movie is somewhat different from the book in a couple of ways. Some of the events that take place are a little different and some things take place in a different chronological order, but the overall feel of despair and hope for survival are still the same. The ability to place yourself in the situation is also the same. I love that McCarthy never fully explains the event that causes father and son to be in such dire straits. It focuses us on the problem at hand and not the disaster that brings us to the problem. The Road is a fast, incredibly emotional and dramatic read, well-worth checking out.