The Road (Book Review)

Written by Michelle Watson

March 26, 2024

You’ll love it if
you’ve got the nerve for an intimate and lyrical dystopia

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Road

By Cormac McCarthy

Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Where do you go when the world ends?

The most astonishing thing about this reading experience is that I consumed this novel almost entirely at night, in the dark, right before bed. For someone who scares easily, I’m mighty proud of myself.

A man and his boy (never named) are trying to survive after a cataclysmic civilization-ending event (never explained), and they spend the novel dodging bad guys (cannibals) and figuring out how to not starve or sicken to death.

This book asks the question: Can we still be good even when everything around us is bad? Having just finished reading a lot of fairy tales, this question is not unfamiliar. Fairy tales ask this question over and over. Under what circumstances, under what pressure, do we compromise our integrity, stretch the bounds of morality, allow anger to rage, and succumb to despair?

The boy repeatedly asks his father, “We’re still the good guys, right?” Since they’re barely clinging to the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (basic survival) and there’s nothing higher to live for or aspire to…it’s important to the boy that they’re “good guys.” This is all the boy can hope for in life beyond simply existing. Which begs the question: Are people born with an innate sense of right and wrong? I believe so.

The Road is a journey with no destination. There’s no safe harbor for the characters to aim for. Every time they stumble upon a good place, they can’t stay long. Someone might find them. There’s always this sense of impending tragedy. Every time the man left the boy somewhere, I had to quickly skim ahead just to make sure he was okay.

The book also asks “What’s the point of continuing to live?” These characters live in a world that’s bad beyond anything that I’ve ever experienced. Why not just give up and find a peaceful place to starve or freeze to death? I’m glad that this book takes a life-affirming approach, for all its bleakness.


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