The story is now surely well enough known. A father and son making their way through a desolate America following an unexplained catastrophic event that has wiped out animal life and most people. Cormack McCarthy writes with a lean attention to detail that conveys powerfully the intimacy of the father / son relationship without ever losing the impact of the bleak, cold, grey, destroyed world through which they struggle. I felt the cold reading it.
There is no real explanation of the apocalyptic events that precede the story, but such is the lean power of his storytelling that no significant back-story is required. This is a world substantially without history, apart from this now distant cataclysmic event. The past hardly counts any more, morally or materially, except for what can be scavanged from it. The survivors are new citizens in a new world and are compelled to find a way and a morality that works. Most people, it seems, divide into ‘the good guys’ and ‘the bad guys’, the latter often defined by cannibalism, graphically implied in a way more shocking than any explicit description could be. The boy is anxious to know that he and his father are ‘the good guys’. His natural inner compassion for others in a world stripped bare becomes, on a few occasions, a motivating morality for his father who has known the world before, unlike his son who only knows the world now. This is not a world that’s going to get any better any time soon.
In keeping with McCarthy’s stye there is no neat golden ending. We join a story that has been unfolding for a while, walk with the characters for a time and then leave them again to continue their journey into an unknown future. Actually most of life is like that which is why I love his style of writing. And there are no chapters. But in the end there is some hope.