PPRL: The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (winner, 2007)

I tore through The Road in two nights. It's less than two hundred pages, plus there's a swiftness to the story, a feeling of momentum that is surprising considering how ploddingly the characters actually move along. The writing is stunning, pure poetry:

The soft black talc blew through the streets like squid ink uncoiling along a sea floor and the cold crept down and the dark came early and the scavengers passing down the steep canyons with their torches trod silky holes in the drifted ash that closed behind them silently as eyes. Out on the roads the pilgrims sank down and fell over and died and the bleak and shrouded earth went trundling past the sun and returned again as trackless and as unremarked as the path of any nameless sisterworld in the ancient dark beyond. 

Despite passages like the above, the novel has an economy of language - seen particularly in the dialogue - that perfectly reflects the austerity of its post-apocalyptic world. There's little to spare, even in conversation. McCarthy accomplishes some other interesting things, like finding ways to keep an otherwise unchanging, monotonous landscape from feeling boring. The word "grey" must appear over a hundred times in the novel, along with "ash" and "dark" - but the reader isn't aware of the repetition. He does this in part by coining new words, usually involving descriptive geological elements. These become a helpful vernacular for characterizing The Road's otherwise unimaginably decayed world.*

Subjects for consideration:
  • the legacy of self-sustainment, as passed from father to son
  • the significance of dreams, and the ghosts that inhabit them (the ghost of love, for the man, and the ghost of childhood for the boy)
  • the metaphor of the shopping cart; the irony that something once symbolizing homelessness and destitution now represents wealth and plenitude 
  • the role of god, and the question of whether god is friend or foe; is god loved? feared? hated? is he a "good guy" or a "bad guy"
  • the way in which father and son merge; how they become, in a sense, a single being; the complicity of their choices, and how that has enabled them to survive
  • the meaning of being saved, one last time, by a shipwreck
  • the tenderness of the love between the man and the boy, despite (because of?) such horrifying circumstances 

* Gah, when I went back through trying to find an example of this I couldn't, but it would be something like combining "river" with "dregs" to form "riverdregs", something unique to and intensely illustrative of a post-cataclysmic environment.