Goodreads: The Road
Published: September 26, 2006
Years ago, the world burnt. Now all is ash. In the desolation, a father and his son walk towards the south and the coast, in search of hope.
The Road was published in 2006, two years before The Hunger Games started a boom in the publication of dystopian/postapocalyptic fiction, yet even taking into consideration that McCarthy wrote the book before the fad, The Road doesn’t offer much original to the genre. (In fact, the feel of the book has a lot in common with Jack London’s “The Scarlet Plague,” which was published in 1912.) It’s a dystopian focused heavily on world-building, on the day-to-day experiences of a boy and his father as they wander about the roads, looking at a burnt out world. There isn’t much in the way of an overarching plot. We’re talking about atmosphere here–and too many dystopians have been written, both before and after The Hunger Games, for atmosphere to be particularly interesting.
So for much of the book I was thinking, “I get it. They’re walking around, looking for abandoned canned food no one else has looted, pushing their lives in a shopping cart and trying to avoid other people on the road because you never know who’s going to shoot you.” And I have read so many books like this. Once in a while, the boy and the father ponder their fate or the fate of humanity. The real problem is: I have read books that have a very similar world-building (Angelfall by Susan Ee comes to mind), but which also have a plot. So The Road didn’t impress me.
I know the book has some status as school required reading, so it’s hard to dismiss it entirely. There are some things about it that are philosophically interesting, if one is willing to dig about for them. The relationship between the boy and his father is particularly worth a second look for anyone reading this academically. And it asks some questions that are basically dystopian/postapocalyptic staples: What does it mean to be human? What is it ethical to do in the pursuit of survival? Is there really a clear line between the “good guys” and the “bad guys?” But, since these are questions practically inherent to the genre, I’m not sure I can say there’s anything specially compelling about the way they’re raised in The Road, if it’s worth reading this book over other books from the genre.
The Road is solid, but I’ve seen so much that’s similar that I simply can’t be excited about it. It just seems so standard, except with a particularly literary fiction type of style (mixing up the chronology, not clearly indicating who’s speaking, etc.), and the style simply doesn’t compensate for the lack of original thought or content.