The Road

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The Road
First edition hardcover
Author Cormac McCarthy
Country United States
Language English
Genre Post-apocalyptic fiction
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date
September 26, 2006
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 287
ISBN 0-307-26543-9
OCLC 70630525

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 by the same name in 2009, directed by John Hillcoat.

Plot summary[edit]

An unnamed father and his young son journey across a grim post-apocalyptic landscape, some years after an unspecified disaster has caused another extinction event, destroying civilization and most life on Earth. The land is filled with ash and devoid of living animals and vegetation. Many of the remaining human survivors have resorted to cannibalism, scavenging the detritus of city and country alike for flesh. The boy's mother, pregnant with him at the time of the disaster, gave up hope and committed suicide some time before the story began, despite the father's pleas. Much of the book is written in the third person, with references to "the father" and "the son" or to "the man" and "the boy".

Realizing they cannot survive the oncoming winter where they are, the father takes the boy south, along empty roads towards the sea, carrying their meager possessions in their knapsacks and a supermarket cart. The man coughs blood from time to time and eventually realizes he is dying, yet still struggles to protect his son from the constant threats of attack, exposure, and starvation.

They have a revolver, but only two rounds. The boy has been told to use the gun on himself if necessary, to avoid falling into the hands of cannibals. During their trek, the father uses one bullet to kill a man who stumbles upon them and poses a grave threat. Fleeing from the man's companions, they have to abandon most of their possessions. As they are near death from starvation, the man finds an unlooted hidden underground bunker filled with food, new clothes, and other supplies. However, it is too exposed, so they only stay a few days.

In the face of these obstacles, the man repeatedly reassures the boy that they are "the good guys" who are "carrying the fire". On their journey, the duo scrounge for food, evade roving bands, and contend with the horrors of the post-apocalyptic setting, such as a newborn infant roasted on a spit and cannibals harvesting human captives as food.

Although the man and the boy eventually reach the sea, their situation does not improve. They head back inland, but the man loses blood after being shot with an arrow. He dies, possibly due to his long-standing respiratory ailment. The father tells the boy that he can continue to speak with him through prayer after he is gone. The boy holds a wake over the corpse for a few days, with no idea of what to do next.

On the third day, the grieving boy encounters a man who says that he has been tracking the pair. The man, who is with a woman, two children, and a dog, convinces the boy that he is one of the "good guys" and 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 talks about conversations he and his brother would have 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 release. 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]


Main article: The Road (2009 film)

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.

The Road was also the inspiration for two video games, the 2011 first-person shooter game Resistance 3 and the 2013 survival-horror game The Last of Us, both of which are exclusive to the PlayStation 3.


  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. 

Further reading[edit]

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