What is it about?
A father and son attempt to stay alive whilst making their way through post-apocalyptic America.
How long is it?
Is it easy to read?
Yes. However it is very bleak and quite shocking in parts.
Is it any good?
Yes. The book won McCarthy the Pulitzer Prize in 2007.
How will it inspire me?
The book is about the instruction and example that a father imparts to his son.
The story is a desperately tense, bare bones account of the two main characters, an unnamed man and boy making their way to the west coast of America during the aftermath of an unspecified global disaster. Civilisation seems to have ended, everything has been destroyed, there is no food and no recovery effort. It’s a survival story with the majority of the book focusing on the characters’ attempts to elude a marauding pack of cannibals, whilst also trying not to starve to death.
The near impossible task that falls to the main character is to somehow shield and protect his son, whilst also preparing him to survive in this new world. The boy was born after the disaster and so has no knowledge of how things used to be. Consequently, the father invents a narrative for him in order to help make sense of things. He tells him that they are ‘the good guys’ and carrying ‘the fire’, which is essentially a symbol for what the world has lost: justice, morals, virtue etc., and the cannibals are the bad guys. He tells himself that he is fated by God to take care of his son, that is his only purpose, to keep him alive. The character development pretty much ends there, you never learn their names or much of who they are. They’re simply the good guys and it’s this role that they frame themselves in that helps them keep going.
However, trying to keep some semblance of humanity in a world in which that is a liability is difficult. Despite knowing full well the reality of the situation the son still pines for human contact and to help people. The father recognises this in him and does his best not to dissuade him, but also not to encourage him too much. The two characters are exposed to some horrific things in the book, but the father never lets it break them, he always reminds the son who they are and that the good guys never give up.
I think in the entirety of the book, the man only really acknowledges the unrelenting nightmare of their reality once. He never despairs, gives into his fears or thinks that things are hopeless. He makes use of what they have and manages to keep himself sane and alive when he might otherwise have taken his own life, the boy is the only thing that matters and he stays strong for him. It’s a difficult book to stomach at times, but it is the main character’s will and commitment to his son that provides a dim light in the dark world they live in. This is what makes the book so inspiring, not losing your soul and letting the world break you whilst passing the torch to the next generation.
–You wanted to know what the bad guys looked like. Now you know. It may happen again. My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?
[…] Are we still the good guys? He said.
Yes. We’re still the good guys.
And we always will be.
Yes. We always will be.
-This is what the good guys do. They keep trying. They don’t give up.
-There’s no one to see. Do you want to die? Is that what you want?
I don’t care, the boy said, sobbing. I don’t care.
The man stopped. He stopped and squatted and held him. I’m sorry, he said. Don’t say that. You mustn’t say that.