This is a fairly short novel that you can read in a day or two. McCarthy tells a gripping story of horror and survival in a post-apocalyptic world.
A father and small son travel on foot somewhere on the eastern seaboard, I imagine Virginia, in October and November, as it is getting cold, in a desperate run for the coast and hopefully warmer climates. The author does not specifically state what happened to the world a few years before the story starts. We just know that there are very few people left, no animals and no wildlife of any sort. The land is burned and covered in soot and ashes inches thick. Some forest fires are still burning. There is no food to catch or to grow. The only sustenance comes from scavenged cans. The problem is that all the supermarkets were raided within the first few weeks of the catastrophe. There is very little left years later. That includes blankets, clothes, shoes and shelter of any sort.
The two main characters are nameless and only referred to as the man and the boy. The man calls the boy son, and the boy calls the man Papa. The man and they boy are pushing a grocery cart full of provisions, a few tools, rags for clothes, blankets and a tarp. They have a pistol with just a few bullets left. They are both filthy and they stink.
There is no power. So when it gets dark in the winter, it is pitch dark. The apocalyptic sky is usually overcast, so there is no light at all. They meet or see just about nobody. When they do run into somebody, it’s a murderous gang of bandits. When there is no food, people will kill for a can of tuna. They encounter cannibalism.
Besides no names, McCarthy applies several other novel techniques. One is not using quotation marks for dialog. He just lists the short dialog using indented sentences. The other is that he does not write contractions. Where I would write “can’t” he writes cant. I am not sure what reason he might have for these oddities. However, they were noticeable enough that I am writing about them here.
When I started the book, I found it extremely depressing, to the point where I almost stopped reading. Then I couldn’t put it down. It’s a frightening story.
It made me think about how tenuous our society is. If trucks stopped running, supermarkets would be empty in a matter of days. Lawlessness would take over and all provisions would be hoarded by not those with the most money or power, but those with the biggest guns and the most brutal minds. Without power, telephones would stop working. Cell phones would lose their charges within days and be useless. No computers could be used to track accounts. Food would be the only currency. Collapse of civilization could come about in a matter of weeks and utter chaos would ensue. The fact that I know how to run a business would help me nothing. I don’t know how to grow food. I am not willing to murder for food. So eventually I would starve.
Read “the Road” by McCarthy and a can of sliced peaches takes on a whole different meaning.