This book sat on my shelf for a decade because I was too scared to read it.
It’s great, everyone said. It’s great, but it’s heavy.
It is both of those things. It’s also, unexpectedly, the best book on fatherhood I’ve ever read. More on that later.
Plotwise, The Road is not paving (haha) any new terrain: An apocalyptic event occurred within the last decade, and the survivors are trying to eke out an existence. The main threat isn’t the scarred earth – it’s the other survivors. The author focuses on a man and his son, and their journey to the coast. They’re looking for better weather and some good guys. You can probably think of about a dozen other books or movies or comics with the same story.
What makes this book five stars for me is that McCarthy masterfully makes the book work on three levels – the intensity of the story, the amazing prose (please read some of it out loud), and the truth humming under everything else happening.
The truth I’m referring to is two-fold: First, life is brutal, and it can also be beautiful. It’s worth it to fight for the good (“This is what the good guys do. They keep trying. They don’t give up.”). The second truth in the book is the depth of love that a father feels for his children.
I became a father a few years ago, right in the middle of a time of unrest. Times like that make you wonder whether you did the right thing having kids, and bringing these perfect, beautiful creatures into an ugly world. Was it selfish to do that?
As they grow, you want them to remain innocent, and at the same time you also want them to be able to take care of themselves when you’re gone. Because you could be gone at any time. How could you leave them in a world like this?
The man teaches his son the kinds of things he needs to know, just in case something happens. How to forage, how to stay away from bad guys, how to stay warm. He also teaches him to “carry the fire”. Good guys carry the fire. Even in the darkest of times, they keep and fight for humanity, both their own and that of others.
Maybe the deepest truth is that when you look at your kids in a gray world, you see them “glowing in that waste like a tabernacle.”
“My job is to take care of you,” the man tells the boy. “I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?”
I finished the book last night, and then reread the last 30 pages three more times. I wept, and I padded downstairs and slept in front my kids’ bedroom door. I prayed. Carry the fire.