The definitive post-apocalyptic novel, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road conjures up its post-catastrophe landscape with palpable potency.
The land was gullied and eroded and barren. The bones of dead creatures sprawled in the washes. Middens of anonymous trash. Farmhouses in the fields scoured of their paint and the clapboards spooned and sprung from the wallstuds. All of it shadowless and without feature. The road descended through a jungle of dead kudzu. A marsh where the dead reeds lay over the water. Beyond the edge of the fields the sullen haze hung over earth and sky alike.
Alongside the spirit of place McCarthy unfolds the relationship between a father and his son as they pass through the sterile landscape journeying because they must keep moving. Coming to a standstill is to die. McCarthy defies any compulsion to narrate the backstory flattening the narrative to this single road traversing a vast space.
Take a scalpel or similar sharp knife and excise the last five pages. I might have guessed from Kirsty Wark’s blurb at the back of my edition, “shocking, harrowing but ultimately redemptive”. The word redemptive nearly always signals disappointment. Endings often disappoint but this ending lacks any virtuosity.