One of the best things about being in a book club is that you are forced to read things you would never otherwise pick up. Someone in my group of generally happy, bourgeois stay-at-home moms in Manhattan decided that our summer beach read should be The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Beach reading it isn’t — a cold, dark room feels more like it. But — despite the fact that it was so well received by the literary establishment (and that it was an Oprah’s Book Club selection), it is one of the more riveting pieces of current fiction I have read.
The book tells the story of a father and his young — maybe ten year old — son, as they travel down what remains of a highway in a post-apocalyptic American landscape. The planet — most people, all animals, birds and insects, and all vegetation — is dead. The land is covered with ash, and the air is so full of it that the sky is always dark, though lighter during the day. It is always cold. Obviously there is no fresh food to be had. If you stop moving you become an easy target for the gangs of cannibals who roam the land. The portrait of this man continuing to struggle for survival struggling to survive and protect his son, when the option of dying is so much more attractive, is brilliant.
There is not one bit of political cant in the book. It isn’t even clear whether the doomsday event was natural or nuclear — though the latter is hinted at.
The language is spare, elliptical and strong. The imagery is frequently haunting. And the moral underpinnings are pretty sound.
If you are tired of spy novels/chick lit, or even the sort of worthy tomes that all NR readers read during vacation, and want a reason to feel grateful for that summer sun, corn and ripe tomatoes, this is your book.