I’ve been OBSESSED with The Last of Us on HBO, and I heard that The Road by Cormac McCarthy was a great book to read if you like the show. That’s all I needed to hear in order to pick it up.
The Road focuses on two people, the man and the boy, in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event. We don’t know what the event was, but given some of the descriptions of the environment, my guess is a nuclear wipeout. The two are traveling from the north to the south in the hopes of getting to warmer weather. But the road to the south is full of danger. There’s the lack of food, but then there’s also people. The bad guys. People who want to take from and hurt the people that get in their way. The man must do everything he can to keep the boy safe, but not everything goes as planned or hoped.
The story is slow, deliberate. The man and the boy are cold and starving, and you watch them go slower and slower, see their desperation, feel their pain as they curl themselves around each other and the fire. Everyday is filled with stress and anxiety, and the man does what he can to keep the boy safe (mentally, emotionally, and physically). Their conversations are brief and limited. You can’t be loud and talkative when you are trying to not be caught by unsavory people. So much of this story happens in description, and while you might think that that would be boring, or lack impact, but that is not the case here.
This book is, in two words, emotionally devastating. I loved it. I’m a big fan of bleak and heart-wrenching stories, and this is, like, the epitome of that. This is my first McCarthy (and given what my friend has told me, maybe my last haha) and I was blown away by the writing. I felt so much for these characters very quickly. The boy is full of love and kindness, and the man knows it and values it. How much he values it is why he keeps going, why he keeps fighting for his son. The tension in the story is built so well. When good things are happening, I’m tense in my worry that it will not last long. When bad things are happening, I’m desperately hoping that they get out of it unscathed. I was so attached and invested in these characters, and I love the book for that.
As far as whether or not I think this is a good rec for people who like The Last of Us, I think the answer is a resounding hell yeah. Not only is this set in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s a father/child dynamic where the father figure is doing whatever he can to keep the child safe. The characters aren’t copy/paste versions of each other. Joel and the man have more in common by the nature of their environment and purpose, but Ellie and the boy are very different in behavior. They are similar in that they are the hope of the human race. The boy is also considerably younger than Ellie. His age is never given, but I’m guessing somewhere between 7-9. He’s not so young that he can’t do anything, but he’s still very very young. The main connection though is how the child relies on the father figure, and how the father figure relies on the child. This is a symbiotic relationship. They are both benefitting from the presence of the other. They are each other’s motivation to keep going.
This is beautiful, tragic, hopeful, and brutal. If you like being put through the wringer when reading, I highly, highly recommend this.