What makes Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” so brilliantly bleak

post-apocalyptic novels, the road, book cover, by cormac mccarthyRevisiting my older dabbles in post-apocalyptic fiction, I’m writing reviews and profiles for my new website dedicated to the genre, Post-Apocalyptic Books. The following is my review of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, produced for that site, but an effective example to place here as well:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy is especially well known now, thanks to the star-studded movie of the same name, but it was doing well long before the film’s release. Its won multiple awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2007), receiving serious attention from the literary critics, not normally shown to entries of the post-apocalypse genre. Unlike many of the books in my listsThe Road isn’t exactly sci-fi or horror. It’s a harrowing emotional journey; primarily a story of the relationship between a father and his son, despite its apocalyptic setting.

The story of The Road

Civilisation has crumbled, an ashen cloud has descended and many of the survivors have turned barbaric – even cannibalistic – in a world where the cataclysm that caused the disaster is never really revealed. A father determines to take his son across America to the sea, believing he’ll find salvation there; they naturally encounter a variety of run-down survivors as they travel, seeing threats in everyone they meet. Along the way, the boy struggles through a few life lessons and survival tips from his dad that will, ultimately, make him a man.

What’s so good about The Road?

Cormac McCarthy has an unmistakably unique style of writing, combining often shocking and emotionally wrought scenes with candid, to-the-point prose that’s at once remarkably well constructed and easy to read. His novels seem to expose the darkness festering deep inside humanity, and The Road is no exception. It’s a blessing to see his literary skills turned to an ordinarily pulpy genre like post-apocalyptic fiction, giving the themes a much heavier emotional edge, and a really professional stylistic quality, than is ordinary in such stories.

Yet, above all, this is a simple story of a father teaching his child how to be a man; it just has an unforgettably miserable setting. It will put you right in the place of its unhappy victims, steeped in atmosphere and dread. It’s not a pleasant atmosphere, and it’s not a pleasant story, but it is a marvel to read, and an impressive literary accomplishment to say the least. It will quite possibly depress you more than any book should rightfully be allowed to, but if you can appreciate that as the achievement then you’ll revel in the experience.

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