I talked to my Aunt about The Road once several years ago. She said she loves McCarthy, but she didn’t like this book. I remember her saying she couldn’t enjoy a book that is “so hopeless”. I understand where she’s coming from. The world portrayed here is unimaginably bleak, peopled with unimaginable cruelty. But to me this book is the opposite of hopeless. Into that bleak and cruel world, he gives us a man and a boy against all odds.

We’re going to be okay, arent we Papa?

Yes. We are.

And nothing bad is going to happen to us.

That’s right.

Because we’re carrying the fire.

Yes. Because we’re carrying the fire.

But— there is no maudlin here. As in everything McCarthy writes, he seems to be grappling with the incomprehensible. In this case, his inability to square the beauty of humanity with the ugliness of humans. This duality is apparent throughout the book.

He strips man of God—“There is no God and we are his prophets”—and then he strips man of himself:

He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.

But finally, in place of God and man, he gives us a boy. A wonderful pure kind boy (my emphasis):

He watched him come through the grass and kneel with the cup of water he’d fetched. There was light all about him. … He lay watching the boy at the fire. He wanted to be able to see. Look around you, he said. There is no prophet in the earth’s long chronicle who’s not honored here today. Whatever form you spoke of you were right.

And in that boy, and in his father, I see hope bright and clear.