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The Road


The Road Cover

ISBN13: 9780307387899
ISBN10: 0307387895
Condition: Standard
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When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he'd wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.

With the first gray light he rose and left the boy sleeping and walked out to the road and squatted and studied the country to the south. Barren, silent, godless. He thought the month was October but he wasnt sure. He hadnt kept a calendar for years. They were moving south. There'd be no surviving another winter here.

When it was light enough to use the binoculars he glassed the valley below. Everything paling away into the murk. The soft ash blowing in loose swirls over the blacktop. He studied what he could see. The segments of road down there among the dead trees. Looking for anything of color. Any movement. Any trace of standing smoke. He lowered the glasses and pulled down the cotton mask from his face and wiped his nose on the back of his wrist and then glassed the country again. Then he just sat there holding the binoculars and watching the ashen daylight congeal over the land. He knew only that the child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke.

When he got back the boy was still asleep. He pulled the blue plastic tarp off of him and folded it and carried it out to the grocery cart and packed it and came back with their plates and some cornmeal cakes in a plastic bag and a plastic bottle of syrup. He spread the small tarp they used for a table on the ground and laid everything out and he took the pistol from his belt and laid it on the cloth and then he just sat watching the boy sleep. He'd pulled away his mask in the night and it was buried somewhere in the blankets. He watched the boy and he looked out through the trees toward the road. This was not a safe place. They could be seen from the road now it was day. The boy turned in the blankets. Then he opened his eyes. Hi, Papa, he said.

I'm right here.

I know.

An hour later they were on the road. He pushed the cart and both he and the boy carried knapsacks. In the knapsacks were essential things. In case they had to abandon the cart and make a run for it. Clamped to the handle of the cart was a chrome motorcycle mirror that he used to watch the road behind them. He shifted the pack higher on his shoulders and looked out over the wasted country. The road was empty. Below in the little valley the still gray serpentine of a river. Motionless and precise. Along the shore a burden of dead reeds. Are you okay? he said. The boy nodded. Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other's world entire.

They crossed the river by an old concrete bridge and a few miles on they came upon a roadside gas station. They stood in the road and studied it. I think we should check it out, the man said. Take a look. The weeds they forded fell to dust about them. They crossed the broken asphalt apron and found the tank for the pumps. The cap was gone and the man dropped to his elbows to smell the pipe but the odor of gas was only a rumor, faint and stale. He stood and looked over the building. The pumps standing with their hoses oddly still in place. The windows intact. The door to the service bay was open and he went in. A standing metal toolbox against one wall. He went through the drawers but there was nothing there that he could use. Good half-inch drive sockets. A ratchet. He stood looking around the garage. A metal barrel full of trash. He went into the office. Dust and ash everywhere. The boy stood in the door. A metal desk, a cashregister. Some old automotive manuals, swollen and sodden. The linoleum was stained and curling from the leaking roof. He crossed to the desk and stood there. Then he picked up the phone and dialed the number of his father's house in that long ago. The boy watched him. What are you doing? he said.

A quarter mile down the road he stopped and looked back. We're not thinking, he said. We have to go back. He pushed the cart off the road and tilted it over where it could not be seen and they left their packs and went back to the station. In the service bay he dragged out the steel trashdrum and tipped it over and pawed out all the quart plastic oilbottles. Then they sat in the floor decanting them of their dregs one by one, leaving the bottles to stand upside down draining into a pan until at the end they had almost a half quart of motor oil. He screwed down the plastic cap and wiped the bottle off with a rag and hefted it in his hand. Oil for their little slutlamp to light the long gray dusks, the long gray dawns. You can read me a story, the boy said. Cant you, Papa? Yes, he said. I can.

. . .

On the far side of the river valley the road passed through a stark black burn. Charred and limbless trunks of trees stretching away on every side. Ash moving over the road and the sagging hands of blind wire strung from the blackened lightpoles whining thinly in the wind. A burned house in a clearing and beyond that a reach of meadowlands stark and gray and a raw red mudbank where a roadworks lay abandoned. Farther along were billboards advertising motels. Everything as it once had been save faded and weathered. At the top of the hill they stood in the cold and the wind, getting their breath. He looked at the boy. I'm all right, the boy said. The man put his hand on his shoulder and nodded toward the open country below them. He got the binoculars out of the cart and stood in the road and glassed the plain down there where the shape of a city stood in the grayness like a charcoal drawing sketched across the waste. Nothing to see. No smoke. Can I see? the boy said. Yes. Of course you can. The boy leaned on the cart and adjusted the wheel. What do you see? the man said. Nothing. He lowered the glasses. It's raining. Yes, the man said. I know.

They left the cart in a gully covered with the tarp and made their way up the slope through the dark poles of the standing trees to where he'd seen a running ledge of rock and they sat under the rock overhang and watched the gray sheets of rain blow across the valley. It was very cold. They sat huddled together wrapped each in a blanket over their coats and after a while the rain stopped and there was just the dripping in the woods.

When it had cleared they went down to the cart and pulled away the tarp and got their blankets and the things they would need for the night. They went back up the hill and made their camp in the dry dirt under the rocks and the man sat with his arms around the boy trying to warm him. Wrapped in the blankets, watching the nameless dark come to enshroud them. The gray shape of the city vanished in the night's onset like an apparition and he lit the little lamp and set it back out of the wind. Then they walked out to the road and he took the boy's hand and they went to the top of the hill where the road crested and where they could see out over the darkening country to the south, standing there in the wind, wrapped in their blankets, watching for any sign of a fire or a lamp. There was nothing. The lamp in the rocks on the side of the hill was little more than a mote of light and after a while they walked back. Everything too wet to make a fire. They ate their poor meal cold and lay down in their bedding with the lamp between them. He'd brought the boy's book but the boy was too tired for reading. Can we leave the lamp on till I'm asleep? he said. Yes. Of course we can.

He was a long time going to sleep. After a while he turned and looked at the man. His face in the small light streaked with black from the rain like some old world thespian. Can I ask you something? he said.

Yes. Of course.

Are we going to die?

Sometime. Not now.

And we're still going south.


So we'll be warm.



Okay what?

Nothing. Just okay.

Go to sleep.


I'm going to blow out the lamp. Is that okay?

Yes. That's okay.

And then later in the darkness: Can I ask you something?

Yes. Of course you can.

What would you do if I died?

If you died I would want to die too.

So you could be with me?

Yes. So I could be with you.


He lay listening to the water drip in the woods. Bedrock, this. The cold and the silence. The ashes of the late world carried on the bleak and temporal winds to and fro in the void. Carried forth and scattered and carried forth again. Everything uncoupled from its shoring. Unsupported in the ashen air. Sustained by a breath, trembling and brief. If only my heart were stone.

He woke before dawn and watched the gray day break. Slow and half opaque. He rose while the boy slept and pulled on his shoes and wrapped in his blanket he walked out through the trees. He descended into a gryke in the stone and there he crouched coughing and he coughed for a long time. Then he just knelt in the ashes. He raised his face to the paling day. Are you there? he whispered. Will I see you at the last? Have you a neck by which to throttle you? Have you a heart? Damn you eternally have you a soul? Oh God, he whispered. Oh God.

They passed through the city at noon of the day following. He kept the pistol to hand on the folded tarp on top of the cart. He kept the boy close to his side. The city was mostly burned. No sign of life. Cars in the street caked with ash, everything covered with ash and dust. Fossil tracks in the dried sludge. A corpse in a doorway dried to leather. Grimacing at the day. He pulled the boy closer. Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.

You forget some things, dont you?

Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.

There was a lake a mile from his uncle's farm where he and his uncle used to go in the fall for firewood. He sat in the back of the rowboat trailing his hand in the cold wake while his uncle bent to the oars. The old man's feet in their black kid shoes braced against the uprights. His straw hat. His cob pipe in his teeth and a thin drool swinging from the pipebowl. He turned to take a sight on the far shore, cradling the oarhandles, taking the pipe from his mouth to wipe his chin with the back of his hand. The shore was lined with birchtrees that stood bone pale against the dark of the evergreens beyond. The edge of the lake a riprap of twisted stumps, gray and weathered, the windfall trees of a hurricane years past. The trees themselves had long been sawed for firewood and carried away. His uncle turned the boat and shipped the oars and they drifted over the sandy shallows until the transom grated in the sand. A dead perch lolling belly up in the clear water. Yellow leaves. They left their shoes on the warm painted boards and dragged the boat up onto the beach and set out the anchor at the end of its rope. A lardcan poured with concrete with an eyebolt in the center. They walked along the shore while his uncle studied the treestumps, puffing at his pipe, a manila rope coiled over his shoulder. He picked one out and they turned it over, using the roots for leverage, until they got it half floating in the water. Trousers rolled to the knee but still they got wet. They tied the rope to a cleat at the rear of the boat and rowed back across the lake, jerking the stump slowly behind them. By then it was already evening. Just the slow periodic rack and shuffle of the oarlocks. The lake dark glass and windowlights coming on along the shore. A radio somewhere. Neither of them had spoken a word. This was the perfect day of his childhood. This the day to shape the days upon.

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Emily Minzel, April 2, 2014 (view all comments by Emily Minzel)
The Road by Cormac McCarthy is not what I was expecting. The novel follows a father and his son in a post-apocalyptic world, travelling to the southern coast. Their struggle to survive dominates the story. The somber tone of the novel is depressing throughout and never wavers. McCarthy’s decision to abandon the readers with an unhappy ending was intentional, leaving them wanting more. The boy and his father’s fight for life in McCarthy’s The Road is brought on by the post-apocalyptic, dull world they live in. The unchanging and relatively uneventful plot portrays a devastating journey that turns readers off.
The setting of The Road is dreary to say the least. Ash covers all. Everything is described as black, filthy and lifeless. Each night is “dark beyond darkness” (3) so nothing is visible. McCarthy describes everything in this way to emphasize the horrible conditions the world is in. No specific information is given throughout the entire book. Readers remain unaware of the names of characters, where exactly they are located and how long the world has been in ruins. The boy is most likely a pre-teen, but no age is ever included. One bit of information provided is the boy does not remember the previous world at all because he was too young. The father does everything he can to keep the boy alive. Hunger becomes a constant reminder of how he cannot provide for himself or his own son. While it pains the two, many “bad people” resort to cannibalism. The boy sees a “charred human infant headless and gutted and blackening on the spit” (198). This would scar any normal child, but the boy is almost resilient. Feelings of hunger, cold, and sadness are always present; sometimes they come in pairs. In the tragic end, the father finally dies, but the boy lives on, “carrying the fire” (283).
Many novels are full of literary elements that provide interesting detail, but The Road excludes most elements to showcase its uniqueness. McCarthy’s choice to eliminate important literary devices is intentional, but lacks purpose. The missing punctuation and terrible grammar is careless and overrated. McCarthy notes, “he drained away the filthy water he sat in and laved fresh warm water over him from the pan and wrapped him again in a blanket”, proposing a run-on sentence. The act is very common in the novel. If it was a way to show the toll the world has taken on the characters, it failed. Characters, as mentioned, remain nameless, which are in need of personal connections. Readers do not respond as well to the characters because all they have to call them is “the boy” and “the father”. They want something personal to latch onto, even if it is just a name. Also, the plot remains anticlimactic. The only major event happens in the very last pages of the novel when the father dies. The boy is left to fend for himself until someone comes for him. He joins a group of people, the group he and his father were looking for the whole time. Although it presents itself like a hopeful ending, it is just the opposite. The story focuses on the father protecting the son, but in the end, he cannot even protect himself. The tone of The Road is constant throughout. The depressing, heartbreaking tone feels like a burden on the soul. Dialogue is another omitted component. Though there is a little of it, the dialogue is not very prominent. It stays in the background, not playing a key role. The author does this to communicate that speaking is not everything. The fears and thoughts that go on in a character’s head is just as important, if not more than dialogue between them. Overall, McCarthy’s novel is missing key elements of literature.
When considering the book as a whole, it is still intriguing even though it lacks action. For the majority, the father and son are only walking. The road they travel is bare, dark and cold. The same ideas are regurgitated over and over again. Hunger comes up in so many instances that it is odd when the pair are not speaking of it. For me, it was obnoxious to be told multiple times that the same thing was happening. I wanted more twists and turns in the plot. I found myself to be bored with the storyline, wishing for excitement. At the same time, McCarthy’s artistic choices left me in awe. He was very specific with the relationship the father and son had. The son’s backlash against his father illustrates his coming of age in a confusing world. The major issue deals with lack of hope. The major theme is when hopelessness sinks in, there is not a lot to do about it. Their journey to the coast is filled with hope that better life will be waiting. Without hope, the son and father give up. The man proclaims, “hope is for eternal nothingness” (57). Readers are aware that he does not have the energy left to hope. When their dreams are shattered, the story takes a turn for the worse. The unpleasant death of the father is McCarthy’s way of getting under his readers’ skin. He does not give them the happy ending they desire, but instead writes their worst fear. The major complaint about the novel is the shortage of surprises.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy is mostly uneventful, but it has its moments of pure artistic genius. The novel is overwhelmed by the struggle for life. The depressing thoughts are extremely prominent and carry a somber tone. The hope the boy and man share dies off, followed by the loss of life. McCarthy’s novel proves that a person can only hang on to hopelessness for so long before he must give up.
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pkdubreuil, January 6, 2013 (view all comments by pkdubreuil)
Well written.
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Sue Bond, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by Sue Bond)
Simple and powerful prose that made me read the novel all the way through in one go. The Road is the first novel of Cormac McCarthy's that I read, and I came to it with my partner's strong recommendations for his other books, particularly Blood Meridian. It is a tough story of the end of human civilisation as we know it, told through the characters of a father and his son, and I was right there with them in the blackened remains and the frightening encounters with other humans mostly stripped bare of their humanity. Absolutely devastating; I will never forget it.
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Product Details

McCarthy, Cormac
Vintage Books USA
Fathers and sons
Voyages and travels
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Vintage International
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
12 x 9 x 5 in 9.74 lb

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The Road Used Trade Paper
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$7.95 In Stock
Product details 304 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780307387899 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Partial spoiler: the part with the cannibals comes out of nowhere and is utterly terrifying. I had planned to get out of bed and brush my teeth before going to sleep that night, but once I had read that part of the book, I was just too scared (to my husband's great annoyance) to do anything so potentially risky.

"Review A Day" by , "It's an adventure, believe it or not — the sort of book that, if only for the relentless clarity of the writing, the lucid descriptions of the grasses, the mud, the thorns, and the very arc of the road that cuts through all that, presents a clear and episodic progress from one small terror to the next. Forget comfort and possession. Postapocalypse or not, it's classic McCarthy....You should read this book because it is exactly what a book about our future ought to be: the knife wound of our inconvenient truths, laid bare in a world that will just plain scare the piss out of you on a windy night." (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review A Day" by , "The love between the father and the son is one of the most profound relationships McCarthy has ever written, and the strength of it helps raise the novel — despite considerable gore — above nihilistic horror....Fans of McCarthy's brutal world view may not approve, but other readers will welcome the unexpectedly hopeful ending." (read the entire CSM review)
"Review A Day" by , "The Road is a much more compelling and demanding book than its predecessor....The new novel will not let the reader go, and will horribly invade his dreams, too....It is an interesting question as to why McCarthy succeeds so well. The secret, I think, is that McCarthy takes nothing for granted." (read the entire New Republic review)
"Review" by , "Even within the author's extraordinary body of work, this stands as a radical achievement, a novel that demands to be read and reread....A novel of horrific beauty, where death is the only truth."
"Review" by , "The Road offers nothing in the way of escape or comfort. But its fearless wisdom is more indelible than reassurance could ever be."
"Review" by , "One of McCarthy's best novels, probably his most moving and perhaps his most personal."
"Review" by , "I'm always thrilled when a fine writer of first-class fiction takes up the genre of science fiction and matches its possibilities with his or her own powers....[A] dark book that glows with the intensity of his huge gift for language."
"Review" by , "[B]eyond the inherent technical difficulties of concocting the unthinkable, McCarthy has rendered a greater and more subtle story that makes The Road riveting."
"Review" by , "[O]nly now, with his devastating 10th novel, has [McCarthy] found the landscape perfectly matched to his cosmically bleak vision....[E]xtraordinarily lovely and sad...[a] masterpiece... (Grade: A)"
"Review" by , "The setup may be simple, but the writing throughout is magnificent....McCarthy may have created a world where things are reduced to their essence, but he continually surprises by finding a way to strip them further."
"Review" by , "The wildly admired writer Cormac McCarthy presents his own post-apocalyptic vision in The Road. The result is his most compelling, moving and accessible novel since All the Pretty Horses."
"Review" by , "[F]or a parable to succeed, it needs to have some clear point or message. The Road has neither, other than to say that after an earth-destroying event, things will go hard for the survivors."
"Synopsis" by , National Bestseller

Pulitzer Prize Winner

National Book Critic's Circle Award Finalist

A New York Times Notable Book

One of the Best Books of the Year:
The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, The Denver Post, The Kansas City Star, Los Angeles Times, New York, People, Rocky Mountain News, Time, The Village Voice, The Washington Post

A man and his young son traverse a blasted American landscape, covered with "the ashes of the late world." The man can still remember the time before. The boy knows only this time. There is nothing for them but survival — they are "each other's world entire" — and the precious last vestiges of their own humanity. At once brutal and tender, despairing and rashly hopeful, spare of language and profoundly moving, The Road is a fierce and haunting meditation on the tenuous divide between civilization and savagery, and the essential, sometimes terrifying power of filial love. It is a masterpiece.

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