The Road

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The Road
First edition hardcover
AuthorCormac McCarthy
CountryUnited States
GenrePost-apocalyptic fiction
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf
Publication date
September 26, 2006
Media typePrint (hardcover)

The Road is a 2006 novel by American writer Cormac McCarthy. It is a post-apocalyptic tale of a journey of a father and his young son over a period of several months, across a landscape blasted by an unspecified cataclysm that has destroyed most of civilization and, in the intervening years, almost all life on Earth. The novel was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction in 2006. The book was adapted to a film of the same name in 2009, directed by John Hillcoat.


A father and his young son journey across post-apocalyptic America some years after an extinction event. Their names are never revealed in the story. The land is covered with ash and devoid of life. The boy's mother, pregnant with him at the time of the disaster, committed suicide at some point before the story begins.

Realizing they cannot survive the winter, the man takes the boy south along empty roads towards the sea, carrying their meager possessions in their knapsacks and a supermarket cart. The man is suffering from a serious cough and knows he is dying. He assures his son that they are "good guys" who are "carrying the fire". The pair have a revolver, but only two rounds. The father has taught the boy to use the gun on himself if necessary, to avoid falling into the hands of cannibals.

The father and son evade a traveling group of marauders. The father uses one of the rounds to kill a marauder who discovers them, disturbing the boy. They flee the marauder's companions, abandoning most of their possessions. When they search a house for supplies, they discover a locked cellar containing captives whom cannibal gangs have been eating limb by limb, and flee into the woods.

As they near starvation, the pair discovers a concealed bunker filled with food, clothes, and other supplies. They stay there for several days, regaining their strength, and then move on, taking lots of supplies from the bunker with them in a new cart. They encounter an elderly man with whom the boy insists they share food. Further along the road, they evade a group whose members include a pregnant woman, and soon after they discover an abandoned campsite with a newborn infant roasted on a spit. They soon run out of supplies again and begin to starve before finding a house containing more food to carry in their cart, but the man's condition is worsening.

The pair reaches the sea, where they discover a boat drifting ashore. The man swims to it and recovers supplies, including a flare gun, which he demonstrates to the boy. The boy becomes ill, and after spending some time on the beach recovering, their cart is stolen and they desperately look for it and those who took it. Eventually they find a single man with the cart, the father threatens him and forces him to strip naked. This distresses the boy causing the father to return and leave the man's clothes and shoes on the road, but the man is nowhere to be found.

In a town inland, the father is shot in the leg with an arrow by a husband and wife. After the father kills the husband with the flare gun, the pair move further south along the beach. The father's condition worsens further. The father weakens, and after several days he realizes he will soon die. He tells the boy he can talk to him in prayer after he is gone, and that he must continue without him. After he dies, the boy stays with his body for three days. He is finally approached by a man carrying a shotgun, who has a wife and two children, a boy and a girl. He convinces the boy he is one of the "good guys", and after helping the boy wrap his father in blankets in the woods, takes him under his protection.

Development history[edit]

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, McCarthy said that the inspiration for the book came during a 2003 visit to El Paso, Texas, with his young son. Imagining what the city might look like fifty to a hundred years into the future, he pictured "fires on the hill" and thought about his son.[1] He took some initial notes but did not return to the idea until a few years later, while in Ireland. Then, the novel came to him quickly, and he dedicated it to his son, John Francis McCarthy.[2]

In an interview with John Jurgensen of The Wall Street Journal, McCarthy described conversations he and his brother had about different scenarios for an apocalypse. One of the scenarios involved survivors turning to cannibalism: "when everything's gone, the only thing left to eat is each other."[3]

Literary significance and reception[edit]

The Road has received numerous positive reviews and honors since its publication. The review aggregator Metacritic reported the book had an average score of 90 out of 100, based on thirty-one reviews.[4] Critics have deemed it "heartbreaking", "haunting", and "emotionally shattering".[5][6][7] The Village Voice referred to it as "McCarthy's purest fable yet."[5] In a New York Review of Books article, author Michael Chabon heralded the novel. Discussing the novel's relation to established genres, Chabon insists The Road is not science fiction; although "the adventure story in both its modern and epic forms... structures the narrative", Chabon says, "ultimately it is as a lyrical epic of horror that The Road is best understood."[8] Entertainment Weekly in June 2008 named The Road the best book, fiction or non-fiction, of the past 25 years[9] and put it on its end-of-the-decade, "best-of" list, saying, "With its spare prose, McCarthy's post-apocalyptic odyssey from 2006 managed to be both harrowing and heartbreaking."[10]

On March 28, 2007, the selection of The Road as the next novel in Oprah Winfrey's Book Club was announced. A televised interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show was conducted on June 5, 2007 and it was McCarthy's first, though he had been interviewed for the print media before.[2] The announcement of McCarthy's television appearance surprised his followers. "Wait a minute until I can pick my jaw up off the floor," said John Wegner, an English professor at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, and editor of the Cormac McCarthy Journal, when told of the interview.[11] During Winfrey's interview McCarthy insisted his son, John Francis, was a co-author to the novel, revealing that some of the conversations between the father and son in the novel were based upon actual conversations between McCarthy and his son. The novel was also dedicated to his son; in a way it is a love story for his son, but McCarthy felt embarrassed to admit it on television.[1]

Awards and nominations[edit]

In 2006, McCarthy was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in fiction and the Believer Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.[12] On April 16, 2007, the novel was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.[13] In 2012, it was shortlisted for the Best of the James Tait Black.[14][15]


A film adaptation of the novel, directed by John Hillcoat and written by Joe Penhall, opened in theatres on November 25, 2009. The film stars Viggo Mortensen as the man and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the boy. Production took place in Louisiana, Oregon, and several locations in Pennsylvania.[16] The film, like the novel, received generally positive reviews from critics.


  1. ^ a b Winfrey, Oprah. "Oprah's Exclusive Interview with Cormac McCarthy Video". Oprah Winfrey Show. Harpo Productions, Inc. Retrieved May 2, 2012.
  2. ^ a b Michael Conlon (5 June 2007). "Writer Cormac McCarthy confides in Oprah Winfrey". Reuters. Retrieved 2009-11-28.
  3. ^ John Jurgensen (20 November 2009). "Hollywood's Favorite Cowboy". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2012-04-25.
  4. ^ "The Road by Cormac McCarthy: Reviews". Metacritic. Archived from the original on January 19, 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-15.
  5. ^ a b Holcomb, Mark. "End of the Line – After Decades of Stalking Armageddon's Perimeters, Cormac McCarthy Finally Steps Over the Border". The Village Voice. Retrieved 2007-04-23.
  6. ^ Jones, Malcolm (September 22, 2006)."On the Lost Highway" Newsweek.
  7. ^ Warner, Alan (November 4, 2006). "The Road to Hell". The Guardian. London. Retrieved March 27, 2010.
  8. ^ Chabon, Michael (15 February 2007). "After the Apocalypse". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2009-11-28.
  9. ^ "The New Classics: Books. The 100 best reads from 1983 to 2008". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-06-10.
  10. ^ Geier, Thom; Jensen, Jeff; Jordan, Tina; Lyons, Margaret; Markovitz, Adam; Nashawaty, Chris; Pastorek, Whitney; Rice, Lynette; Rottenberg, Josh; Schwartz, Missy; Slezak, Michael; Snierson, Dan; Stack, Tim; Stroup, Kate; Tucker, Ken; Vary, Adam B.; Vozick-Levinson, Simon; Ward, Kate (December 11, 2009), "THE 100 Greatest Movies, TV shows, albums, Books, Characters, Scenes, Eipisodes, Songs, Dresses, Music videos & Trends that entertained us over the past ten years.". Entertainment Weekly. (1079/1080):74–84
  11. ^ Julia Keller (March 29, 2007). "Oprah's selection a real shocker: Winfrey, McCarthy strange bookfellows". Chicago Tribune.
  12. ^ The National Book Critics Circle 2006 finalists Archived February 5, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ "Novelist McCarthy wins Pulitzer". BBC. April 17, 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-08.
  14. ^ Leadbetter, Russell (21 October 2012). "Book prize names six of the best in search for winner". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  15. ^ "Authors in running for 'best of best' James Tait Black award". BBC News. 21 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  16. ^ "Mortensen, Theron on The Road to Pittsburgh". USA Today. January 16, 2008. Retrieved January 7, 2010.

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