The Road, By Cormac McCarthy


McCarthy, C. (2006). The road. New York: Knopf.

Hardcover $24.00, Paperback $15.00, Kindle $7.99, 256 pages

ISBN: 978-0307387899

Author’s Website and Interviews:

 Online Reviews:

 The New York Times:

The Guardian:

Annotation: The coast may be our salvation from the death and destruction that has ravaged the landscape, turning men into monsters. 

Summary: Years after a world-wide catastrophe destroyed most of Earth, an unnamed father and son wander the ravaged landscape in search of the coast; a destination that is seen as a salvation from the harsh winter and “bad guys” who now roam the land. The pair is armed only with a single gun and a meager supply of food, clothes, and blankets which they store in a shopping cart. It is revealed that the boy’s mother committed suicide soon after the catastrophe, leaving the man to care for the child alone. Along the way to the coast, the father and son encounter various survivors, many of who turn out to be people who have resorted to cannibalism in order to fend off starvation. When they begin to run out of food, they come across a dilapidated home which appears to be vacant and search for something to eat. They soon discover a padlocked door that holds something much more sinister and they escape, fearing that they too could meet the same fate. Once they arrive at the coast, they realize that it is not the refuge they had envisioned. The father is dying from a cough that has plagued him for most of the journey and he worries that he will have to leave his son alone to “carry the fire” and continue on in search of food and shelter alone amidst the horrors of this new world.

Evaluation: I found this to be a very powerful book in terms of the prose writing style as well as the thematic elements. The writing explores a genuine relationship and love between a father and son and examines how that love is both sustained and tested in the face of insurmountable odds. The storyline is dark and haunting and provided visuals that were often hard for me to shake. It is a powerful story of the human condition and Cormac writes it in such a way that you feel as if you are there along with the characters. Even the smallest characters have a huge impact on the story and expose the father and son’s motivations, often revealing harsh truths not only about themselves but the world they now live in. Overall great book that has strong character development and a plot that made it impossible to put the book down.

Genre: Science Fiction (Post-Apocalyptic)

Appeal Factors: Atmospheric, haunting, bleak, menacing, and stylistically complex

Read-alike Titles and Authors:

  • The Pesthouse by Jim Crace
  • The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell
  • Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

Awards: National Best Seller, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Oprah’s Book Club, and New York Times Notable Book

Booktalk Ideas:

  • Use empathy to put the reader and/or audience into the shoes of the father or the son. How would you feel if you had to watch your child starve and freeze with little you could do to help? How would you feel if you knew your father was dying and you would be left alone to fend for yourself?

Book Discussion Questions:

  1. Why are none of the characters named? Is this supposed to present the reader with an “Everyman” type character that relates to every reader differently?
  2. The father mentions that he and his son “carry the fire” inside of themselves. What is the fire he refers to and why is it so important that it not be extinguished?
  3. How did the suicide of the man’s wife impact his relationship with his son? Why do you think she chose to end her life? Why didn’t the father take the same path?
  4. Do you think there really are “bad guys” vs. “good guys” in the story or are the so called bad guys just trying to survive? Why do the father and son refer to themselves as “the good guys”? What makes them good?

I was immediately drawn to this book because it was a post-apocalyptic novel. I had read really great reviews about the book and was interested to see how the relationship between father and son developed in the face of a great catastrophe. After reading the the first sentence of the book jacket, “A father and son walk alone through burned America,” I had to know what happened to America, what caused the fires, and why this father and son were left alone to wander.