The premise of Cormac McCarthy’s new novel, The Road, is simple: In a ruined, postapocalyptic future, a nameless father and his young son—”each the other’s world entire”—trudge down a road toward the ocean, with the hope of finding a warmer, more hospitable locale. Along the way, they scrounge for cans of food in cities and countryside already thoroughly pillaged by other refugees. Death from starvation and exposure hovers, but a more immediate terror is the constant threat of dismemberment by roving bands of cannibals, for this is what most survivors have been reduced to. There is an urgency to each page, and a raw emotional pull in the way McCarthy, the poet laureate of violence, known for brutal and biblical novels like Child of God (1973) and Blood Meridian, or, The Evening Redness in the West (1985), renders the father’s attempts to keep alive the hopes of the young boy as well as his own, making it easily one of the most harrowing books you’ll ever encounter. Nearly unreadable in its heartbreaking detail, it is also, once opened, nearly impossible to put down; it is as if you must keep reading in order for the characters to stay alive.
Hardcore fans would have forgiven the seventy-three-year-old legend (the galley cover announces “His New Novel,” as if God himself had written the book) had he produced another in his recent string of accessible novels. Some might see it as a return to form, but The Road diverges from his earlier work as McCarthy switches the focus from the hunters to the hunted. And some might see this free-floating futuristic nightmare as a radical departure, yet for true believers who’d followed the signs in his previous work, this is where they hoped he would arrive.
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