“Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.”
― Cormac McCarthy,
Reading through Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel The Road is not a comforting experience. Though not quite as bleak as some of McCarthy’s other work — it’s hard to get more bleak than Child of God, for one — The Road is pretty far from a fun jaunt, and not even something that the reader necessarily “enjoys,” as such. Instead, the rather gut-wrenching action of traversing The Road‘s pages is a perfect mirror to the depressingly futile journey that the protagonists, a boy and his father, must go on: a hopeless trek through an expired Earth, in search of a mythical coastline that may or may not be worth the trip.
Why the coastline? It doesn’t matter. Even in the beginning, this goal seems inconsequential. The true point of their journey is so that McCarthy can demonstrate that, even in the brutalized world that he predicts, there is still one thing worth living for: love. And this love, flawed and painful as it may be, is the one thing that is strong enough to carry even the most emaciated victim of an uncertain apocalypse to the next day; the kind of incommunicable trust that a man and his son can share, as together they brave the wilderness of a world that seeks to destroy them.
The Road is the story of a man, his boy, and the incommunicable trust that they share in a world that seeks to destroy them. Within the narrative, both characters are never named. This sort of feature is fairly normal in McCarthy’s fiction — his minimalism is one of the most distinctive features of his prose — but here, it further serves to demonstrate that, in the world McCarthy depicts, names no longer matter, only archetypes. We learn very little about who these two characters were before the apocalypse occurred, which only reinforces that they could be any father and son.
The love between these two characters is what allows them to persevere, resulting in a novel that, despite its vehement bleakness, ends up being one of McCarthy’s most oddly hopeful works, and one of his greatest triumphs.