This was a quick read, a matter of a couple days. Post apocalyptic short fiction expanded into novel lenth, the plot is simple, though significant themes appear through the book. I've intended to read the book for some time, and I'm glad I picked it up. Beware spoilers below!
A man and his child are survivors of an undefined world-shattering event. Civilization has collapsed, natural life has collapsed, and humanity has turned to whatever means possible for survival; to many, this means cannibalism. Facing winter, the man and the boy travel south, seeking the sea. The landscape is barren, cloudcover blotting the sun, snow frequent from the clouds, ash parodying snow. Nothing grows, and dead trees topple one by one. They travel through the mans homeland, visiting the house where he grew up, now abandoned. Starvation threatens, but time and again luck leads them to edible goods: mushrooms, dried where they grew in the ground; canned goods, taken from derelict farmhouses; apples, long fallen and withered in the field. The other travelers on the road are either pathetic, as Ely who claims ninety years of age and offers neither assistance nor resistance to the man and his boy; or dangerous, as is the band of cannibals who hunt the pair only to leave one of their own, dead. Upon reaching the sea, the man finds yet another windfall in a ship run aground, the stores promise to nourish the two for days, perhaps weeks, though the man, long sick and aging, succombs to death a short time after finding the ship. Seemingly hopeless without the man, the boy is approached by another survivor, a man with a family who was been tracking the two for some time. The boy is welcomed into the family, and the book ends.
The themes of the book are many, but few of them are examined in depth. The book examines death and suicide throughout: we learn that the boys' mother killed herself because she simply could not go on, and the man contemplates killing his son in order to save the boy from life as a foodsource or worse. Religion is touched upon; indeed, the idea is presented that the boy is an angel or messiah of some description. Parenting is a theme, though one that isn't delved into. I can't say that humanity or human nature is examined, unless perhaps through the discussions between the father and the boy. I'd have to read the book again to see farther into the writing.
Don't pick this book up if you're offended by lax use of the English language; the writing is not for the faint of heart. McCarthy's style in this book helps describe the world. He uses short (sometimes incomplete) sentances. I don't recall seeing a single quotation mark despite sections of dialogue. The book is not divided into chapters, but rather short sections, scenes of perhaps a paragraph in length. Personally, I found that all of this did contribute positively to the book; it's hard to miss just how barren the world is when presented in this style. However, the novel is too long for the style, maintained as it is throughout. The book is too long to truly be described as a short story, though I believe that it's more appropriately classed as such rather than as a novel. I think the story could easily have been expanded upon and built into a novel that actually examined human condition or made a statement about religion. Alternately, a few episodes could have been deleted from the book (there are only so many times you want to read about someone facing starvation) to slim it down to short story length. But, we have the book as the author wrote it, and it's well written despite my complaints. If you're looking for a gritty, vivid tale that will haunt you and challenge your assumptions about life and living, The Road might be a good choice.