Normally, I am not a huge fan of sci-fi; I think the last sci-fi book I read was called The Hero from Otherwhere, and I read it in the fifth grade. (I distinctly recall making a tissue paper wolf collage after completing it.) But despite any initial resistance I had genre-wise, there was something very engaging about this story. The language was at times absolutely lyrical ("At crossroads a ground set with dolmen stones where the spoken bones of oracles lay moldering" -- wow!), and the descriptions visceral, but it was actually the simple and subtle portrait of a father and son's relationship that most captivated me.
The unnamed father and son of The Road spend the entire novel in a futile journey across a post-apocalyptic landscape. Survival is the prevailing goal, leaving little room for much else. The son has no recollection of the world before its demise, and the father must navigate a future-less world with a young child at his side. The terse dialogue reveals beautifully (and with tremendous subtlety) the nuances of their relationship.
I was actually reminded throughout the novel of one of my favorites of last year: Room by Emma Donoghue. In that novel, a mother and her young son are confined to a small room (a room in which they are being held captive). Like the boy in The Road, Jack has no knowledge of the world outside the room. What struck me was how differently each of these parents deal with their children. While "the man" in The Road discourages dreams (fearful that they are a sign of surrender), the mother in Room relies on them to create a magical place for her small child. I can't help but wonder what would have happened if she'd been the one to survive the apocalypse instead -- if she and Jack were the ones making their way through this frozen, ashen world. Perhaps what differentiated the two parents was the simple prospect of a future: hope the one thing that eludes the father in The Road.
I did find myself worrying throughout the novel about how McCarthy would handle the end. And while it was satisfying, it also felt a little too tidy, a little too happy (despite the larger tragedy at hand). It didn't detract from my overall experience of the novel, however. Read it!