Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Unexpected Horror: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a bleak, harrowing story of a nameless father and son struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Though darker than Stephen King's The Stand and Richard Matheson's I Am Legend combined, you'll never find The Road, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, categorized in the horror section at bookstores.

Like King's and Matheson's works, McCarthy creates a desolate landscape of destruction where there are "nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than that had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world." However, unlike King and Matheson, McCarthy offers no glimmer of hope and no explanation for the destruction. The world is reduced to a blackened ash, and it will never recover.

Unlike traditional post-apocalyptic horror stories, The Road has no supernatural elements. There are no zombies, no vampires. Just regular people. Regular people who have turned savage and cannibalistic, killing, raping, and eating any survivor in their path. Though these people are only seen in fleeting passages, the father and son are in constant fear of their presence. As the father and son journey south in search of a warmer climate, they stumble upon signs of the cannibals, including, "a charred human infant headless and gutted and blackening on the spit."

The father and son are surrounded by despair. Conversations between the father and son are shown in quick bursts in between the blackened imagery of the landscape. "I wish I was with my mom," the son says. "You mean you wish that you were dead," the father replies. Throughout the course of the story there is an overwhelming sense of dread. The father is trying to remain strong for the sake of his son, but deep down, he knows there is no hope.

McCarthy's writing style is sparse and intense. The characters are constantly threatened by other survivors, harsh climate, and the lack of food, and as a reader, you will feel the threat, too. Each door opened may lead to a world of devestating horror, and your heart will pound every time the father "takes a look." Though the situation may be hopeless for the father and son, The Road is still worth the journey.

The Road written by Cormac McCarthy
Vintage International, 2006
287 pages

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