Almost fifteen years after its publication, the 2007 Pulitzer Prize The Road is more relevant than ever. Set in an unspecified future, the novel depicts a depopulated, cold earth, affected by some ecological disaster. Cormac McCarthy narratively explores the climate crisis and its implications – ice melting, drought, renewable energy – a decade before it became central to protests and public debate. And beyond, the profound sense of isolation and alienation felt by the two protagonists, a father and son, eerily matches the derangement of this last year.
Everything in The Road is gray: landscapes, trees, clothes, even faces. Colors belong to a previous time, the time before an unexplained catastrophe destroyed the world as we know it, leaving it cold and dried up under a pale and distant sun. In The Road, a father and a son walk, heading to the South in search of food and better weather. They have no names. The world is cruel and savage, and so are the few people still alive, but the man and the boy are different: they bring fire. The cultural references for this apocalyptic scenario come from science fiction, like Dawn of the Dead or ‘Time Enough at Last’ from The Twilight Zone, and The Terminal Beach by Ballard. But despite all the references, McCarthy’s novel is unique, and that’s because of the way it is written.
In The Road, the language is molded by the story’s setting: the style is as desolate, arid, and even brutal as the novel’s world. At first, it could resemble early Hemingway, but McCarthy’s style is peculiar, rich in biblical references, grave and gray, so that it glues the reader to their chair with its echoes of ineluctability. The book was adapted to a film of the same title, directed by John Hillcoat in 2009.