The Road is a 2006 novel by American writer Cormac McCarthy. It is a post-apocalyptic tale describing a journey taken by a father and his young son over a period of several months across a landscape blasted years before by an unnamed cataclysm that destroyed civilization and, seemingly, most life on earth. The novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2006 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction.
McCarthy said the inspiration for The Road came during a visit to El Paso, Texas with his young son in 2003. Imagining what the city might look like in the future, he pictured "fires on the hill" and thought about his son. He took some initial notes, but did not return to the idea until several years later while in Ireland. Then the novel came to him quickly, and he dedicated it to his son, John
The Road follows a man and a boy, father and son, journeying together for many months across a post-apocalyptic landscape, some years after a great, unexplained cataclysm. (In an interview with David Kushner in Rolling Stone, McCarthy suggested it was an impact event.)The story takes place in the former United States, in the lower Appalachian mountains, where civilization has been destroyed, along with most life; the precise fate of the rest of the earth is not made clear, though the implication is that the disaster has affected the entire planet. What is left of humanity now consists largely of bands of cannibals and their prey, and refugees who scavenge for food.
Ash covers the surface of the earth; in the atmosphere, it obscures the sun and moon, and the two travelers breathe through improvised masks to filter it out. Plants and animals are apparently all dead (dead wood for fuel is plentiful), and the rivers and oceans are seemingly empty of life. The only non-human organisms they encounter are a dog, some edible mushrooms, moss, and some mold and shriveled apples found in an orchard.
The father is literate, well-traveled, and knowledgeable about machinery, woodcraft, and human biology. He realizes that he and his young son cannot survive another winter in their present location, so the two set out across what was once the Southeastern United States, largely following the highways. They aim to reach warmer southern climates and the sea in particular. Along the way, threats to the duo's survival create an atmosphere of sustained terror and tension.
The father coughs blood every morning and knows he is dying. He struggles to protect his son from the constant threats of attack, exposure, and starvation, as well as from what he sees as the boy's dangerous desire to help the other wanderers they meet. They carry a pistol with two bullets, meant for suicide should it become necessary; the father has told the son to kill himself to avoid being captured. (The boy's mother, pregnant with him at the time of the cataclysm, quickly felt overwhelmed by this nightmare world and has committed suicide some years before the story begins.) The father struggles in times of extreme danger with the fear that he will have to kill his son to prevent him from suffering a more terrible fate – horrific examples of which include chained catamites kept captive by a marauding band; captives found locked in a basement and in the process of being slowly cannibalized, their limbs gradually harvested by their captors; and a decapitated human infant being roasted on a spit.
In the face of all of these obstacles, the man and the boy have only each other (the narrator says that they are "each the other's world entire"). The man maintains the pretense, and the boy holds on to the real faith, that there is a core of ethics left somewhere in humanity, and they repeatedly assure one another that they are among "the good guys," who are "carrying the fire."
In the end, having brought the boy south after extreme hardship but without finding the salvation he had hoped for, the father succumbs to his illness and dies, leaving the boy alone on the road. Three days later, however, the grieving boy encounters a man who has been tracking the father and son. This man, who has a wife and two children of his own, invites the boy to join his family. The narrative's close suggests that the wife is a moral and compassionate woman who treats the boy well, a resolution that vindicates the dead father's determination to stay alive and keep moving as long as possible.
Throughout the story McCarthy uses a basic rough style of writing. He often neglects to denote contractions with apostrophes as well as forming run on sentences by not using commas. The story also lacks typical dialogue styles. Conversations lack quotations and the dialogue is often not separated into separate paragraphs. In addition, the novel has no chapters or breaks, and the main characters are referred to merely as "the man" and " the boy".
The Road has received numerous positive reviews and honors since its September 26, 2006 release. The review aggregator Metacritic reported the book had an average score of 90 out of 100, based on 31 reviews. Critics have deemed it "heartbreaking," "haunting," and "emotionally shattering." The Village Voice referred to it as "McCarthy's purest fable yet." In a New York Review of Books article, author Michael Chabon heralded the novel, which he insists is not science fiction but an "adventure story in both its modern and epic forms that structures the narrative."Entertainment Weekly in June 2008 named The Road the best book, fiction or non-fiction, of the past twenty-five years, ahead of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Toni Morrison's Beloved.
On April 16, 2007, the novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It also won the 2006 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, and was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.
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 Cormac McCarthy's first, though he had been interviewed in print before. The announcement of Cormac McCarthy's television appearance surprised those who follow him. "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. British environmental campaigner George Monbiot was so impressed by The Road that he declared Cormac McCarthy to be one of the "50 people who could save the planet" in an article published in January 2008. Monbiot wrote, "It could be the most important environmental book ever. It is a thought experiment that imagines a world without a biosphere, and shows that everything we value depends on the ecosystem." This nomination echoes the review Monbiot had written some months earlier for the Guardian in which he wrote, "A few weeks ago I read what I believe is the most important environmental book ever written. It is not Silent Spring, Small Is Beautiful or even Walden. It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments. Nor does it carry a single dreary sentence, which, sadly, distinguishes it from most environmental literature. It is a novel, first published a year ago, and it will change the way you see the world."
About the Author Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on July 20, 1933, and moved with his family to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1937. He is the third of six children, with three sisters and two brothers. In Knoxville, he attended Knoxville Catholic High School. His father was a successful lawyer for the Tennessee Valley Authority from 1934 to 1967. Cormac McCarthy entered the University of Tennessee in 1951-1952 and was a liberal arts major. In 1953, he joined the United States Air Force for four years, two of which he spent in Alaska, where he hosted a radio show. In 1957, he returned to the University of Tennessee. During this time in college, he published two stories in a student paper and won awards from the Ingram Merrill Foundation in 1959 and 1960. In 1961, he and fellow university student Lee Holleman were married and had their son Cullen. He left school without earning a degree and moved with his family to Chicago where he wrote his first novel. He returned to Sevier County, Tennessee, and his marriage to Lee Holleman ended. Cormac McCarthy's first novel, The Orchard Keeper, was published by Random House in 1965. He decided to send the manuscript to Random House because "it was the only publisher [he] had heard of." At Random House, the manuscript found its way to Albert Erskine, who was William Faulkner's editor until Faulkner's death in 1962. Erskine continued to edit Cormac McCarthy for the next twenty years. In the summer of 1965, using a Traveling Fellowship award from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, Cormac McCarthy shipped out aboard the liner Sylvania, hoping to visit Ireland. While on the ship, he met Anne DeLisle, who was working on the ship as a singer. In 1966, they were married in England. Also in 1966, Cormac McCarthy received a Rockefeller Foundation Grant, which he used to travel around Southern Europe before landing in Ibiza, where he wrote his second novel, Outer Dark. Afterward he returned to America with his wife, and Outer Dark was published in 1968 to generally favorable reviews.
In 1969, Cormac McCarthy and his wife moved to Louisville, Tennessee, and purchased a barn, which Cormac McCarthy renovated, even doing the stonework himself. Here he wrote his next book, Child of God, based on actual events. Child of God was published in 1973. Like Outer Dark before it, Child of God was set in southern Appalachia. In 1976, Cormac McCarthy separated from Anne DeLisle and moved to El Paso, Texas. In 1979, his novel Suttree was finally published. He had been writing Suttree on and off for twenty years. Supporting himself with the money from his 1981 MacArthur Fellowship, he wrote his next novel, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, which was published in 1985. The book has grown appreciably in stature in literary circles. In a 2006 poll of authors and publishers conducted by The New York Times Magazine to list the greatest novels of the previous quarter-century, Blood Meridian placed third, behind only Toni Morrison's Beloved and Don DeLillo's Underworld. In a 2005 review of No Country for Old Men, The New Yorker magazine, despite admitting Cormac McCarthy a "colossally gifted writer", dismissed the novel as "an unimportant, stripped-down thriller". However, it was praised by other critics, and its cinematic version, adapted by the Coen Brothers, won four Academy Awards and more than 75 film awards globally.
Cormac McCarthy now lives in the Tesuque, New Mexico, area, north of Santa Fe, with his wife, Jennifer Winkley, and their son, John. He guards his privacy. In one of his few interviews (with The New York Times), Cormac McCarthy is described as a "gregarious loner" and reveals that he is not a fan of authors that do not "deal with issues of life and death," citing Henry James and Marcel Proust as examples. "I don't understand them," he said. "To me, that's not literature. A lot of writers who are considered good I consider strange.". Cormac McCarthy remains active in the academic community of Santa Fe and spends much of his time at the Santa Fe Institute, which was founded by his friend, physicist Murray Gell-Mann. Talk show host Oprah Winfrey chose Cormac McCarthy's 2006 novel The Road as the April 2007 selection for her Book Club. In addition, Cormac McCarthy agreed to sit down for his first television interview, which aired on The Oprah Winfrey Show on June 5, 2007. The interview took place in the library of the Santa Fe Institute; Cormac McCarthy told Winfrey that he does not know any writers and much prefers the company of scientists. During the interview he related several stories illustrating the degree of outright poverty he has endured at times during his career as a writer. He also spoke about the experience of fathering a child at an advanced age, and how his now eight-year-old son was the inspiration for The Road.
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