The Road by Cormac McCarthy
It's been hyped as a masterpiece, and I think they're right. I ripped through The Road in about a day and a half recently, enthralled and horrified by Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning tale of a man (Papa) and his son (the boy) traveling through a post-apocalypse world seeking to find salvation—or, at least, a measure of safety—by reaching the seacoast. The writing is bleak and beautiful, the pace is brisk, the setting completely immersive, the ending brought a lump to my throat.
There are many specific moments here that I know will stay with me for a long, long time. Like when Papa and the boy discover what's behind the locked cellar door—the mattress, the screams, the man with the burned-off legs—in the mansion/military camp. Or the train they find in the wrecked forest. Or when they encounter the man who had been struck by lightning, and are forced to leave him charred and shivering on the side of the road. Or the whole part with the boat. Or when they stumble upon the miracle cache, underground, undisturbed. Or what they see roasting on a spit at a hastily-abandoned campsite.
But really, for me the overwhelming power of The Road comes from McCarthy's spare, relentless depiction of Papa and the boy's merciless, miserable world: day after day of the horrible cold, the rain and snow, the filth, the ash, the dreariness, the hunger, the cauterized landscape, the constant fight against fear and despair. How can they not just give up? How do they remain "the good guys", when what little is left of the world has seemingly all gone bad? Why bother living, when everything around you is dead? The answer, of course, is to experience just one more minute of being with someone you love... and then one more minute after that... and then one more minute after that.
This is an excellent novel, one of the best I've read in years. Here's a brief excerpt:
On the outskirts of the city they came to a supermarket. A few old cars in the trashstrewn parking lot. They left the cart in the lot and walked the littered aisles. In the produce section in the bottom of the bins they found a few ancient runner beans and what looked to have once been apricots, long dried to wrinkled effigies of themselves. The boy followed behind. They pushed out through the rear door. In the alleyway behind the store a few shopping carts, all badly rusted. They went back through the store again looking for another cart but there were none. By the door were two soft drink machines that had been tilted over into the floor and opened with a prybar. Coins everywhere in the ash. He sat and ran his hand around in the works of the gutted machines and in the second one it closed over a cold metal cylinder. He withdrew his hand slowly and sat looking at a Coca Cola.
What is it, Papa?
It's a treat. For you.
What is it?
Here. Sit down.
He slipped the boy's knapsack straps loose and set the pack on the floor behind him and he put his thumbnail under the aluminum clip on the top of the can and opened it. He leaned his nose to the slight fizz coming from the can and then handed it to the boy. Go ahead, he said.
The boy took the can. It's bubbly, he said.
He looked at his father and then tilted the can and drank. He sat there thinking about it. It's really good, he said.
Yes. It is.
You have some, Papa.
I want you to drink it.
You have some.
He took the can and sipped it and handed it back. You drink it, he said. Let's just sit here.
It's because I wont ever get to drink another one, isn't it?
Ever's a long time.
Okay, said the boy.