In the near future, we can safely assume within a decade or less from today, there is some catastrophic event. Described as "low concussive booms", the landscape is nonetheless diminished to an ashy wasteland where very little survives. The main characters, a father and his son, are "each the other's world entire", traveling through this unnamed wasteland toward an unnamed coast in search of hope for survival, hope for humanity. The landscape provides challenges beyond that of simply finding food and shelter, as many other survivors have resorted to cannibalism, forming roving groups for protection. No character is made a person complete in the novel, (the father and son even lack names) but we understand the core emotional drive of the father to protect his son and to continue to move toward something, anything to keep alive the small candle of hope in both of them. He simultaneously attempts to protect his son's innocence from the devastation of land and man as they pass through their desolate world. His son, however, seems to understand the need to learn about these evils and thereby protect himself, and in that contest of wills their relationship is developed.