About three-quarters of the way through this book, I had to stop reading for a day or two. I just couldn't bear to go on, I dreaded to think what would happen to the man and his son. The dangers are myriad in Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic world, and lie in wait around every corner. It's a bleak book. McCarthy keeps the dialogue terse and the color limited to a palette of gray and ash. Only the boy is described with color. He's golden, carrying the last flame of compassion in his heart.
The book is driven by their journey south to the coast, where the man hopes for a warm winter. I had some questions about the ultimate purpose of the journey. But I think it suits McCarthy's purposes symbolically that they are itinerant, constantly vulnerable. We seem to have destroyed our home for good in the apocalypse, so the man and the boy are forever homeless, scrounging, hiding, living on borrowed time.
McCarthy's writing, which I found lean in _No Country for Old Men_, seems to have gone on a starvation diet. The language is spare, as if the same disaster that has pared the characters down to their essential motivations has worked on the book itself. The boy asks at one point about their "long-term goals" and the man questions him about where he heard the term. In this world there's no such thing. Survival, the shortest-term goal ever, is the only goal. This makes for a simple, powerful narrative, and compelling—who doesn't want to see good protect innocence and triumph over evil (marauders! cannibals!)? But was that really what was going on? Clearly there were bad guys, but the father's attempts to "protect" the son seem to ensure their isolation as much as their safety. I was left frustrated by the neat, vague ending. It's so easy all of a sudden! It's something to debate with friends, I suppose, whether we are to take this ending at face value or as a dream of death.