The Road - Cormac McCarthy

The Road - Cormac McCarthy

The Road follows a man and his son (we never learn their names) as they cross an America in the grip of a nuclear winter to reach the sea. This postapocalypse is no Station Eleven, though, bright with the hope of a communal human future: it's not just humanity that's dead but apparently every living thing, cows, crows, grass, trees, fish. Food is unbelievably scarce, and meeting other humans is not a relief but a terror, as cannibal gangs travel on the roads looking for survivors. It's all unrelievedly bleak, stark, grey. And not a light or easy read.


So these are probably not the right kinds of questions to ask with a book like this, but the main thing I was thinking about was the worldbuilding. Like, if this is a nuclear winter, where's the radiation sickness? It's several years since the apocalypse: what's everyone been eating? (Aside from each other, that is.) Nuclear war tends not to come out of nowhere: why weren't there more bunkers, more stores?


Like I said, these things are not really the point. I get that the simplicity and emptiness of the landscape are supposed to highlight the beauty of the father-son bond, etc., but I'm an SFF reader, dammit, I like my worldbuilding, and McCarthy's world just felt too simplistic, too drastic, too unremittingly hopeless. It feels manipulative in its awfulness.


I also found McCarthy's non-use of speech marks for dialogue - or, indeed, dialogue tags in most cases - incredibly irritating, and I frequently had to count back from the last named speaker to understand who was speaking. The long stretches of unmarked dialogue occasionally began to feel like one of those bizarre surrealist plays where the characters just say stuff that doesn't mean anything. Again, I feel this might actually have a literary point - bleakness! the indistinguishable nature of individuals! - but it is not fun to read. (Also, contractions. The apostrophe in "can't" is there for a reason.)


The Road is powerful, it's true, and it is even affecting in parts, but I was hoping for a great read, a difficult read, one that would stay with me. Instead I got a sort of middling-to-good one.