'The Road' Travels a Desolate American Future

Cormac McCarthy's latest book, The Road, is a story about the journey of a father and son through a post-apocalyptic American landscape. But it may be a comment on conditions today.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Here's a review of the new novel out this week from Cormac McCarthy. He's the author who impressed a wide audience and Hollywood filmmakers with past books like All the Pretty Horses.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

McCarthy's characters commonly walk the Southwestern deserts alone. They dodge bandits and killers, and their encounters are so violent that McCarthy's books have appalled some critics.

His newest novel finds another man walking the wasteland. Only this time in a book called The Road. The wasteland is a future America; it's years after some unnamed catastrophe.

The aftermath of the apocalypse was often depicted during the Cold War in colorful novels and movies, like Mad Max. Now, five years after 9/11, McCarthy's story drains away the color. Every day the sky is gray. Every tree is dead. Firestorms have baked the countryside black and nothing moves in city streets but ashes in the wind.

McCarthy set this novel in the Appalachian Mountains, where he grew up. Mountains lushly depicted in his earliest books. Now the novelist depicts his own homeland blasted into ruins.

The main character guides his son on a seemingly hopeless search for safety. Every day they search for food and hide in terror from American cannibals. Civilization has collapsed except in the mind of the main character, who keeps telling his son we're the good guys.

The long and vivid sentences that Cormac McCarthy once wrote are now pruned back to sentence fragments. They still have the power to make you see McCarthy's darkening world and wish you'd never seen it.

The Road is so bleak that it passes as humor when the boy on the lifeless highway asks his father, what are our long-term plans? You begin to wonder if the novelist Cormac McCarthy is posing that question to us?

MONTAGNE: The novel by Cormac McCarthy is called The Road.

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