The Road reminded me to two other writers I’ve read: Ernest Hemingway and Alan Garner. It reminded me of Hemingway because there seemed to be only five adjectives and adverbs in the whole book and because there was a dearth of women. And it reminded me of Garner (I had to read Strandloper for a literary analysis class), because it seemed like McCarthy had written the book the same way Garner did, like he spent as much time un-writing it as he did writing it. There was almost no exposition or backstory, and there was barely any punctuation. When you read the dialog in this book, it’s really easy to lose track of who is speaking. There are no chapters, just small breaks between vignettes or scenes.
The Road is the story of a father and a son traveling through a blighted landscape. You never learn why everything is burnt, or why most of the people are dead. All you know is that there’s ash everywhere; it’s cold; and nothing grows anymore. It’s one of the bleakest landscapes I’ve ever come across. At least with the global pandemic novels, those who manage to survive can keep living once they figure out how to work the land again. This novel is one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read, because even if the unnamed father and son found a safe place to hole up for a while, you knew that the food would eventually run out. While the boy eventually finds a new family to take care of him after his father dies, it was still a depressing ending because I couldn’t see that they had anywhere to go that would support life for long.
Perhaps those are the big differences between literary science fiction and regular science fiction. In regular science fiction, you have a) people explaining things and theorizing and b) people who are working on figuring our and solving the problem. Even in the bleakest genre book, there’s still hope.