Cormac Mccarthy's The Road is a dark, post apocalyptic journey through the remnants of the world as we know it, with the faintest flicker of hope at the end.
Destroyed by some never quite explained catastrophe, the Earth has become nearly inhospitable to life. A thick ash smothers everything and hangs in the sky, making a cold, quiet moonscape where things had once been green and alive. Through this nightmare world travels bands of desperate survivors, including an unnamed man and his son. The father's plan is to travel south to warmth and the ocean, where he hopes to find their salvation. Along the way they are confronted by cannibals, thugs and others as adrift as they are, a Darwinian struggle reminiscent to some degree of the lost boys in The Lord of the Flies, but far more sinister and disturbing. In particular, the image of the captives of the cannibals- who are being eaten bit by bit, shrinking grotesquely but kept alive so their flesh remains fresh- is a vision of Hell right out of Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights. Calling themselves "the good guys," the father and son still carry a gun- with two bullets- to end their lives if needed rather than suffer a crueler fate. The father also struggles with the ethical dilemma of having to "unteach" his son about compassion and empathy, afraid that the boy- who wants to help those equally in need- will only die in the attempt. This "every man for himself" situation is in stark contrast to everything the father believes, and how the boy has been raised. It's this struggle to hang on to the noble aspects of humanity while surrounded by the worse that makes the novel insightful, haunting, and a riveting read.
Mark Wakely, author of An Audience for Einstein