The Road

A searing, postapocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece.

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.

The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, “each the other’s world entire,” are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.


Despite Cormac McCarthy’s reputation as an ornate stylist, The Road represents both the logical terminus, and a kind of ultimate triumph, of the American minimalism that became well-known in the 1980s under the banner of ‘dirty realism’ … The Road is a much more compelling and demanding book than its predecessor … The new novel will not let the reader go, and will horribly invade his dreams, too … The Road is not a science fiction, not an allegory, and not a critique of the way we live now, or of the-way-we-might-live-if-we-keep-on-living-the-way-we-live-now. It poses a simpler question, more taxing for the imagination and far closer to the primary business of fiction-making: what would this world without people look like, feel like? These questions McCarthy answers magnificently … [His] devotion to detail, his Conradian fondness for calmly described horrors, his tolling fatal sentences, make the reader shiver with fear and recognition … When McCarthy is writing at his best, he does indeed belong in the company of the American masters. In his best pages one can hear Melville and Lawrence, Conrad and Hardy. His novels are full of marvelous depictions of birds in flight, and The Road has a gorgeous paragraph like something out of Hopkins … The writing [is] often breathtaking.”
–James Wood, The New Republic

“Fundamentally it marks not a departure but a return to McCarthy’s most brilliant genre work, combined in a manner we have not seen since Blood Meridian: adventure and Gothic horror. That book is usually viewed not only as McCarthy’s greatest–a view I passionately share–but as representing a kind of fulcrum [in his career] … There are strong echoes of the Jack London—style adventure [and] Robinson Crusoe [in The Road] … For naturalism operating at the utmost extremes of the natural world and of human endurance a McCarthy novel has no peer… McCarthy has to be accounted as a secret master and the rightful heir to the American Gothic tradition of Poe and Lovecraft … I think ultimately it is as a lyrical epic of horror that The Road is best understood … The father is visited as poignantly and dreadfully as Odysseus or Aeneas by ghosts … Replete both with bleak violence and acute suspense, [this is] a layered, tightly constructed narrative that partakes of the epic virtue it attempts to abnegate … What emerges most powerfully as one reads The Road is not a prognosticatory or satirical warning about the future, or a timeless parable of a father’s devotion to his son, or yet another McCarthyesque examination of the violent underpinnings of all social intercourse and the indifference of the cosmic jaw to the bloody morsel of humanity … It is a testament to the abyss of a parent’s greatest fears … It is in the audacity and single-mindedness with which The Road extends the metaphor of a father’s guilt and heartbreak over abandoning his son to shift for himself in a ruined, friendless world that The Road finds its great power to move and horrify the reader.”
–Michael Chabon, New York Review of Books

“It’s hard to think of [an apocalypse tale] as beautifully, hauntingly constructed as this one. McCarthy possess a massive, Biblical vocabulary and he unleashes it in this book with painterly effect … The Road takes him to a whole new level … It will grip even the coldest human heart.”
–John Freeman, Sunday Star-Ledger

“Rendered in beautiful and powerful prose … McCarthy still stands tall among our best writers … In the nightmarish setting that McCarthy has envisioned, humanity shines brightly through.”
–Connor Ennis, The Associated Press

The Road [is] Cormac McCarthy’s new masterpiece … Lush, sensuous prose … Gorgeous descriptions … … He evokes Hemingway’s literary vision in order to invert it, first by eliminating the promise that nature can provide a refuge from human destruction and finally by giving us redemption in the form of the love between a parent and a child.”
–Jennifer Egan, Slate

“The love between the father and the son is one of the most profound relationships McCarthy has ever written.”
–Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor

The Road is a wildly powerful and disturbing book that exposes whatever black bedrock lies beneath grief and horror. Disaster has never felt more physically and spiritually real. In a way McCarthy is the last survivor of a vanished world. He is, essentially, a modernist, miraculously preserved like a literary coelacanth from the age of Hemingway and Faulkner, writers of high style and high purpose without an iota of aw-shucks relatability … There’s a stripped-down intensity to his work that is just awesome.”
–Lev Grossman, Time

“One of McCarthy’s best novels, probably his most moving and perhaps his most personal … Every moment of The Road is rich with dilemmas that are as shattering as they are unspoken … McCarthy is so accomplished that the reader senses the mysterious and intuitive changes between father and son that can’t be articulated, let alone dramatized … Both lyric and savage, both desperate and transcendent, although transcendence is singed around the edges … Tag McCarthy one of the four or five great American novelists of his generation.”
–Steve Erickson, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“No American writer since Faulkner has wandered so willingly into the swamp waters of deviltry and redemption … [The Road] is Beckett at its most gritty … McCarthy is too seasoned a writer to over dramatize what may be the last drama of all … The reader feels a bone-deep identification with the characters’ plight … And to its credit, you don’t see what has to be coming in this endgame novel–a moment of such simple goodness and humanity that even its elegiac fact is a thing of comfort … He has written this last waltz with enough elegant reserve to capture what matters most.”
–Gail Caldwell, Boston Globe

“As a reader of everything good I can get my hands on, I’m always thrilled when a fine writer of first-class fiction takes up the genre of science fiction and matches its possibilities with his or her own powers … Now Cormac McCarthy, one of our country’s most lauded writers, has done it and made a dark book that glows with the intensity of his huge gift for language. The Road is a postatomic apocalypse novel as we’ve never seen one before, a black book of wondrous paragraphs that reads as though Samuel Beckett had dared himself to outdo Harlan Ellison … Why read this? Aside from the fact that Cormac McCarthy could write instructions on a microwave that sounded like a version of the King James Bible, why keep pushing ahead? Because in its lapidary transcription of the deepest despair short of total annihilation we may ever know, this book announces the triumph of language over nothingness.”
–Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune

“Chilling and beautiful … The reader is captivated and surprisingly, charmed. To such bleakness McCarthy brings the real and genuine warmth of humanity … Breathtaking … McCarthy justifies the very worth of fiction in the consummate breadth and dimension of his work.”
–Andrew Hubner, New York Post

“McCarthy is a gutsy, powerful storyteller … The writing throughout is magnificent.”
–John Barron, Chicago Sun-Times

“[McCarthy] might be expected to rest on his laurels as one of our best living novelists. Instead, it is clear that McCarthy is not going gently into that good night … We find this violent, grotesque world rendered in gorgeous, melancholic, even biblical cadences … Few books can do more; few have done better. Read this book.”
–Duane Davis, Rocky Mountain News

“Cormac McCarthy’s subject in his new novel is as big as it gets: the end of the civilized world, the dying of life on the planet and the spectacle of it all. He has written a visually stunning picture of how it looks at the end to two pilgrims on the road to nowhere … The Road is a dynamic tale, offered in the often exalted prose that is McCarthy’s signature, but this time in restrained doses … Vivid, eloquent … The accessibility of this book, the love between father and son expressed in their quicksilver conversations, and the pathos of their story will make the novel popular, perhaps beyond All the Pretty Horses The Road is the most readable of his works, and consistently brilliant in its imagining of the posthumous condition of nature and civilization … The rhythmic poetry of McCarthy’s formidable talent has made us see the blasted world as clearly as Conrad wanted us to see.”
–William Kennedy, New York Times Book Review (cover)

“His most compelling, moving and accessible novel since All the Pretty Horses McCarthy is particularly well-suited to the task [of imagining a post-nuclear world] because he writes so beautifully and convincingly about violence, despair and men in desperate situations … McCarthy brilliantly captures the knife edge that fugitives in a hostile world stand on … This makes for genuine suspense … Amid this Godot-like bleakness, McCarthy shares something vital and enduring about the boy’s spirit, his father’s love and the nature of bravery itself.”
–Deirdre Donahue, USA Today

“Admirers of Cormac McCarthy will find themselves in reassuringly familiar territory with his new book, The Road. The setting may have shifted away from the West [but] the tale retains McCarthy’s invigoratingly austere worldview … What saves the book from nihilism, though, is the tenderness with which McCarthy treats his two main characters … This is a story of great extremes. There are some truly harrowing scenes of evil in the book, told without fanfare, and then–running in stark counterpoint–come startling gestures of compassion and pity. And the book feels real, which is perhaps its most impressive accomplishment. Good writing is always about the details, and as usual McCarthy gets everything right … This whittling away [of his prose] brings to the forefront one of McCarthy’s greatest gifts as a writer: the purity and vigor of his storytelling. While The Road is undeniably a work of high literature, its narrative moves forward with such irresistible momentum that it nonetheless reads like a page turner. Immerse yourself in the first few paragraphs, and that’s all it will take; you’ll be hooked till the very end.”
–Scott Smith, Borders shortlist

“Devastating … McCarthy has never seemed more at home, more eloquent, than in the sere, postapocalyptic ash land of The Road … Extraordinarily lovely and sad … [A] masterpiece.”
–Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly

The Road is a Dantean tour of hell that would make Dante himself shudder … [McCarthy’s] most searing and masterful work since 1985’s Blood Meridian The Road carries the power to echo through you for an entire lifetime.”
–Jonathan Miles, Men’s Journal

“Trenchant and terrifying, written with stripped-down urgency and fueled by the force of a universal nightmare. The Road [has] stunning, savage beauty. This is an exquisitely bleak incantation–pure poetic brimstone … [Cormac McCarthy] gives voice to the unspeakable … Yet this narrative is also illuminated by extraordinary tenderness … This is art that both frightens and inspires … Its fearless wisdom is more indelible than reassurance could ever be.”
–Janet Maslin, New York Times

The Road is the logical culmination of everything [McCarthy]’s written. It is also, paradoxically, his most humane and compassionate book … The question that the novel implicitly poses–how much can you subtract from human existence before it ceases to be human?–takes on heartbreaking force … One measure of a good writer is the ability to surprise. Terse, unsentimental, bleak–McCarthy’s readers have been down that road before. But who would ever have thought you’d call him touching?” 
Malcolm Jones, Newsweek

“[The Road] conjures a compelling and memorable dread … Wrenchingly elegiac … Single plot twists chill the blood … Under Mr. McCarthy’s bleakness burns a retroactive treasuring. To wit, even with rising oil prices, terrorism and insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, there may come a time when readers look back in wonder that they ever had it so good.”
The Economist

“Its harrowing, utterly realistic descriptions of primal human struggle against an implacable landscape hark back to the author’s definitive work, 1985’s Blood Meridian … McCarthy’s depiction of the father’s plight is heartbreaking … The novel is, of course, beautifully written … Tableaux of the ruined landscape demonstrate that his poetic gifts have only deepened over the years … [The Road is] thoroughly arresting in its bleak grandeur, and is a handsome addition to the author’s illustrious canon.”
–Hank Shteamer, Time Out New York

“The novel is awesome, a kind of reality-based Beckett, moving and unbelievably believable in its portrayal of horror and dread and hopelessness in the next Dark Age … Transcendently bleak.”
–Kurt Andersen, New York magazine

“Even by McCarthy’s standards, the horrors here are extreme … But McCarthy’s prose retains its ability to seduce and there are nods to the gentler aspects of the human spirit.”
The New Yorker

“A bare description of Cormac McCarthy’s new novel sounds painfully bleak … Yet for all this, The Road provides the mesmerized reader with exhilaration, even joy. What makes the novel so profoundly affecting is the intensity of McCarthy’s imaginative immersion: He sees the most extraordinary details … The Road deserves to last: It is an overwhelming achievement and may be the first truly great work of American art in the new century.”
O, The Oprah Magazine

“The genius of McCarthy’s work [is] in its bold, seamless melding of private revelation, cultural insight, and unabashed philosophizing … The freshness he brings to this end-of-the-world narrative is quite stunning: It may be the saddest, most haunting book he’s ever written or that you’ll ever read … The Road [is] more Time of the Wolf than Mad Max, and more Kuroi Ame than either of those … McCarthy’s purest fable yet … Hypnotic, gut-punching prose and bracing depictions of emotional longing … The tender precariousness of The Road’s human relationships is what finally makes it such a beautiful, difficult, near perfect work.”
–Mark Holcomb, The Village Voice

The Road is filled with McCarthy’s famous nihilistic violence and moral essentialism. The tense narrative is pared down to the duo’s basic quest for survival, making for some masterful suspense … Include[s] terse, powerful elegies … Chilling.”
–Florence Williams, Outside magazine

“McCarthy may have just set to paper the definitive vision of the world after nuclear war … It is the love the father feels for his son, a love as deep and acute as his grief, that could surprise readers of McCarthy’s previous work … McCarthy has always written about the battle between light and darkness; the darkness usually comprises 99.9% of the world, while any illumination is the weak shaft thrown by a penlight running low on batteries. In The Road, those batteries are almost out–the entire world is, quite literally, dying–so the final affirmation of hope in the novel’s closing pages is all the more shocking and maybe all the more enduring as the boy takes all of his father’s (and McCarthy’s) rage at the hopeless folly of man and lays it down, lifting up, in its place, the oddest of all things: faith.”
–Dennis Lehane,

“Cormac McCarthy [is] the elemental prose stylist of our time … [His] chilling tenth novel is unlike anything he’s ever written … [The Road] is an adventure … the sort of book that, if only for the relentless clarity of the writing, the lucid descriptions of the grasses, the mud, the thorns, and the very arc of the road that cuts through all that, presents a clear and episodic progress from one small terror to the next … You should read this book because it is exactly what a book about our future ought to be.”
–Tom Chiarella, Esquire (Big Book of the Month)

“In this stunning departure from his previous work, McCarthy envisions a postapocalyptic scenario … Its spare, precise language is rich with other explorations, too: hope in the face of hopelessness, the ephemeral nature of our existence, the vanishing world we all carry within us. McCarthy evokes Beckett, using repetition and negation to crushing effect, showing us by their absence the things we will miss. Hypnotic and haunting, relentlessly dark, this is a novel to read in late-night solitude. Though the focus never leaves the two travelers, they carry our humanity, and we can’t help but feel the world hangs in the balance of their hopeless quest. A masterpiece.”
–Keir Graff, Booklist (starred)

“Even within the author’s extraordinary body of work, this stands as a radical achievement, a novel that demands to be read and reread … A parable that reads like Night of the Living Dead as rewritten by Samuel Beckett … The relationship between father and son has a sweetness that represents all that’s good in a universe where conventional notions of good and evil have been extinguished. Amid the bleakness of survival there are glimmers of comedy … [McCarthy’s] prose combines the cadence of prophecy with the indelible images of poetry. A novel of horrific beauty, where death is the only truth.
Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“[A] postapocalyptic tour de force … McCarthy establishes himself here as the closest thing in American literature to an Old Testament prophet, trolling the blackest registers of human emotion to create a haunting and grim novel about civilization’s slow death after the power goes out.”
Publishers Weekly (starred)