Carmac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) is the story of a journey of several weeks by a father and son in a post-apocalyptic America. The writing style, to include text and punctuation, is extremely minimalist; no names for people or most places are given, no dates, what caused the apocalypse is not detailed. The cataclysm caused the extinction of all wild and plant life – nothing growing, ash everywhere and cold. Cannibalism rampant. A solidly depressing, dreary, and horrific story.
I first read The Road in 2007 and recently went over it again, this time mining from the survivalist point of view. It’s recommended but not so much for tips and techniques, but for a taste of what is close the worst case scenario. Note, I haven’t seen the movie.
Due to the setting of the story – ash covered landscape, constant cloud cover, falling temperatures, no life aside from humans – it’s likely the disaster was either a nuclear war or a massive meteor strike. I’ve read reviews that note one instance of fungus growing but I missed it, everything else is dead, no plants, insects, etc. Just people and mention of one dog barking in the distance.
I am skeptical about this depiction as it seems unlikely all insects would be dead, and that mold and fungus would not be more prevalent. And the smaller animals the eat those things. Also, if enough sunlight has been blocked to prevent plant life, which can grow at fairly cold temperatures, it seems like the surface temperature should be freezing rather than merely cold.
The father and son are traveling from some unnamed inland portion of the U.S. to the coast in hopes of finding a place capable of sustaining life. The boy was born just after the event(s) occurred and seems to be nine or 10 years old.
Something survivalists should note is that a fully stocked retreat complete with five years of food for all members would have been exhausted halfway into this scenario. Such preparation would be absolutely useful for surviving the unrest and mass human die-off of the first couple years, but, in this book, has limits.
During their journey the father and son are constantly on the lookout for other people in order to avoid them, since in most cases the others are cannibals looking for the next meal. Despite this, the father uses a shopping cart to move their meager supplies down the road, moving off the road a bit to camp at night. In the book the father is both vigilant and lucky at this and they don’t get caught, but I suspect in the real world they would have been caught long before by traveling on the main road.
Scavenging is the way of life and the father is very good at it, as he kept them in food for several years without resorting to cannibalism. However the father doesn’t constantly scavenge for food, but seems to wait until their limited food supply is almost gone. I think he would have to take almost every opportunity to scavenge, but it’s a book and despite a few close encounters with starving to death, again he’s pretty lucky.
I could go on for a long time nitpicking details that I think are a bit off. It’s unclear how the man and boy survived for nearly 10 years in such an environment, and it’s unclear if anyplace else (southern hemisphere?) would be better; but it was very clear that to stay would be death by starvation, freezing, or cannibals.
The main point I take away from a survivalist’s perspective is to move out much sooner if it looks like things are becoming completely unsustainable in the current location.