On the Lost Highway; Cormac McCarthy Sends a Father and Son on the Scariest Road Trip He Can Imagine. Seat Belts Fastened?

Article excerpt

Byline: Malcolm Jones

For a more than decent summary of the plot of Cormac McCarthy's latest novel, "The Road," consult the Library of Congress boilerplate that follows the book's title page: "1. Fathers and sons--Fiction. 2. Voyages and travels--United States--Fiction. 3. Regression (Civilization)--Fiction. 4. Survival skills--Fiction." For that matter, it's not a bad imitation of the novel's style. Using the stripped-down prose that he employed so effectively in his last book, "No Country for Old Men," McCarthy spins an entire novel around two people, a father and his young son fighting their way through a post-apocalyptic world reduced to cold ashes and ruins. The action is equally minimal. The man and boy are traveling out of the mountains and toward the coast, searching for warmer weather and hoping to find someone neither malign nor crazy with whom they can join forces. McCarthy never says what happened to bring the world to cinders. Nor does he name his characters, or tell us how old the boy is or where they are exactly. He merely posits a world where everything is bombed out and broken beyond repair, soon to be populated by "men who would eat your children in front of your eyes" and looters who look like "shoppers in the commissaries of hell." Darkness is a perennial McCarthy theme, but here it is in full flower. "The Road" is the logical culmination of everything he's written.

It is also, paradoxically, his most humane and compassionate book. …