The only glimpse we’re given of what violently ends the known order of things is this brief scene; I have left McCarthy’s original spelling and punctuation and intact:
The clocks stopped at 1:17. A long shear of light and then a series of low concussions. He got up and went to the window. What is it? she said. He didnt answer. He went into the bathroom and threw the lightswitch but the power was already gone. A dull rose glow in the windowglass. He dropped to one knee and raised the lever to stop the tub and the turned on both taps as far as they would go. She was standing in the doorway in her nightwear, clutching the jamb, cradling her belly in one hand. What is it? she said. What is happening?
I dont know.
Why are you taking a bath?
After this, the landscape outside—everywhere—is described as “scabbed” and “cauterized,” heavily covered in ash. McCarthy memorably writes: “They sat at the window and ate in their robes by candlelight a midnight supper and watched distant cities burn.”
… McCarthy’s end-times scenario sounds, to me, remarkably like nuclear war, but in his Wall Street Journal interview McCarthy entertains, even if only casually, that it could also have been the caldera beneath Yellowstone National Park finally exploding. McCarthy:
A lot of people ask me [what caused The Road’s apocalypse]. I don’t have an opinion. At the Santa Fe Institute I’m with scientists of all disciplines, and some of them in geology said it looked like a meteor to them. But it could be anything—volcanic activity or it could be nuclear war. It is not really important. The whole thing now is, what do you do? The last time the caldera in Yellowstone blew, the entire North American continent was under about a foot of ash. People who’ve gone diving in Yellowstone Lake say that there is a bulge in the floor that is now about 100 feet high and the whole thing is just sort of pulsing. From different people you get different answers, but it could go in another three to four thousand years or it could go on Thursday. No one knows.
It was thus amazingly interesting to read that no less than 1,799 earthquakes have occurred beneath Yellowstone since January 17, 2010—a so-called earthquake swarm.