Before I tell you what I think about this book, I should probably clarify a couple of things. First, I drive a 2001 Ford Escort with a tape deck. It may be the only car tape deck left in operation, but I am the proud owner of it. Thus, when I go to the library to get books for the car, I am left with fewer choices than those of us who have CD players in the car. I often have one James Patterson, a Maeve Binchy, and Catch-22 as options. So when I find a book I have actually wanted to read (no offense to Joseph Heller – I tried it, and it wasn’t exactly a “car book.”), I get kind of giddy.

Secondly, I have wanted to read Cormac McCarthy for years. All the Pretty Horses is sitting on my book shelf gallantly waiting until I make time for it. Something about the power of his language – at least in the snippets I had read – made me yearn for his words, kind of like I get a hankering for Hemingway sometimes – not enough testosterone perhaps, not enough grand tragedy for certain.

Therefore, when my local branch had The Road on tape, I turned giddy and checked it out immediately. I must admit that despite the hype – Oprah-inspired and other – about this book I knew nothing about it – not the plot, not the setting, not the characters. Then, the intro on the recorded book started and I heard the words “post-Apocalyptic,” and I wondered what I’d gotten myself into.

It turns out I have become engrossed in the story, mildly traumatized by the story, and absolutely invested in it. The basic gist of the plot is, well, basic. A man and his son are traveling south on a road, trying to get to warmer territory in a U.S. that has been almost obliterated by something that causes great amounts of ash (I suspect nuclear fall-out, but so far, the form of the apocalypse has not been stated). Their greatest challenges are finding food and staying away from those the boy calls “the bad people,” cannibals who have turned to their fellow survivors as a ready supply of food.

The story is so simple, just so devastating. It calls into question, in a way I haven’t read in a while, the meaning of life. Why do people want to survive when the only reason to survive is to do it? What ways do people make for themselves when all purpose seems lost? What does it mean to really be human?

As I “read” (i.e. listen), I keep getting devastated by the pain in the book – the mother’s role, the cannibals’ behavior, the boy’s grief, the father’s perseverance and strength. But beneath this pain there is a great beauty – the thing that the father begins to dream as life gets even tougher. The love between the two protagonists is profound, and McCarthy has a way of writing the genuine human empathy of the boy is such poignant language that I literally tear up as I hear the boy cry out in longing or fear.

I haven’t finished the book – probably will on my drive up from D.C. to home today – but this has kick-started a deep love affair with McCarthy (much like On Chesil Beach did for my love of McEwan). I am eager to see what happens in the book, although I suspect it will not be happy, and I long to hear more about this journey down the road, this life.

Cover of The Road by Cormac McCarthyThe Road by Cormac McCarthy