The Road

By Cormac McCarthy. Knopf, $24.

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<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5

It’s hard to imagine that Cormac McCarthy, an author long obsessed with the historical forces that shaped America, would set a book in the future, but his new, postapocalyptic novel, The Road, doesn’t read like a departure. Its harrowing, utterly realistic descriptions of primal human struggle against an implacable landscape, ravaged in this case by an unspecified nuclear event, hark back to the author’s definitive work, 1985’s Blood Meridian.

But The Road has something that ensemble-driven book lacks: a morally sound protagonist. The unnamed single father at the heart of The Road must sustain himself and his young son in a toxic environment peopled by cannibalistic thieves armed with Mad Max--style weaponry. McCarthy’s depiction of the father’s plight is heartbreaking; as he and his son encounter horror after horror, the man is torn between a survivalist’s ruthlessness and the desire to shield his child from certain trauma. Still, for every “frieze of human heads,” there are pleasures to be found. In one powerful scene, the father comes across an unopened Coke can in an abandoned grocery store. A vestige of a world the boy is too young to remember, the beverage becomes almost holy.

The novel is, of course, beautifully written. McCarthy dots the episodic narrative with tableaux of the ruined landscape, which demonstrate that his poetic gifts have only deepened over the years. The Road might feel a bit brief to diehards used to a heftier read, but it’s thoroughly arresting in its bleak grandeur, and is a handsome addition to the author’s illustrious canon.— Hank Shteamer

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