Synopses & Reviews
A searing, postapocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece.
A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food and each other.
The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, each the other's world entire, are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.
"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." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"The Road offers nothing in the way of escape or comfort. But its fearless wisdom is more indelible than reassurance could ever be." Janet Maslin, New York Times
"One of McCarthy's best novels, probably his most moving and perhaps his most personal." Los Angeles times
"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." Chicago Tribune
"[B]eyond the inherent technical difficulties of concocting the unthinkable, McCarthy has rendered a greater and more subtle story that makes The Road riveting." Boston Globe
"[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)" Entertainment Weekly
"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." Chicago Sun-Times
"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." USA Today
"[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." Houston Chronicle
About the Author
Cormac McCarthy is the author of nine previous novels. Among his honors are the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Reading Group Guide
1. Cormac McCarthy has an unmistakable prose style. What do you see as the most distinctive features of that style? How is the writing in The Road
in some ways more like poetry than narrative prose?
2. Why do you think McCarthy has chosen not to give his characters names? How do the generic labels of "the man" and "the boy" affect the way in which readers relate to them?
3. How is McCarthy able to make the postapocalyptic world of The Road seem so real and utterly terrifying? Which descriptive passages are especially vivid and visceral in their depiction of this blasted landscape? What do you find to be the most horrifying features of this world and the survivors who inhabit it?
4. McCarthy doesn't make explicit what kind of catastrophe has ruined the earth and destroyed human civilization, but what might be suggested by the many descriptions of a scorched landscape covered in ash? What is implied by the father's statement that "On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world" [p. 32]?
5. As the father is dying, he tells his son he must go on in order to "carry the fire." When the boy asks if the fire is real, the father says, "It's inside you. It was always there. I can see it" [p. 279]. What is this fire? Why is it so crucial that they not let it die?
6. McCarthy envisions a postapocalyptic world in which "murder was everywhere upon the land" and the earth would soon be "largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes" [p. 181]. How difficult or easy is it to imagine McCarthy's nightmare vision actually happening? Do you think people would likely behave as they do in the novel, under the same circumstances? Does it now seem that human civilization is headed toward such an end?
7. The man and the boy think of themselves as the "good guys." In what ways are they like and unlike the "bad guys" they encounter? What do you think McCarthy is suggesting in the scenes in which the boy begs his father to be merciful to the strangers they encounter on the road? How is the boy able to retain his compassion--to be, as one reviewer put it, "compassion incarnate"?
8. The sardonic blind man named Ely who the man and boy encounter on the road tells the father that "There is no God and we are his prophets" [p. 170]. What does he mean by this? Why does the father say about his son, later in the same conversation, "What if I said that he's a god?" [p. 172] Are we meant to see the son as a savior?
9. The Road takes the form of a classic journey story, a form that dates back to Homer's Odyssey. To what destination are the man and the boy journeying? In what sense are they "pilgrims"? What, if any, is the symbolic significance of their journey?
10. McCarthy's work often dramatizes the opposition between good and evil, with evil sometimes emerging triumphant. What does The Road ultimately suggest about good and evil? Which force seems to have greater power in the novel?
11. What makes the relationship between the boy and his father so powerful and poignant? What do they feel for each other? How do they maintain their affection for and faith in each other in such brutal conditions?
12. Why do you think McCarthy ends the novel with the image of trout in mountain streams before the end of the world: "In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery" [p. 287]. What is surprising about this ending? Does it provide closure, or does it prompt a rethinking of all that has come before? What does it suggest about what lies ahead?