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Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

Child of God (1973)

by Cormac McCarthy

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1,703434,189 (3.82)118
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Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
This book descends into madness in a way that unsettled me, which is most likely the point. The story of Lester Ballard is not a nice one. He starts out as a poor, uneducated fellow who lives in a cabin in the woods. His awkward social interactions at first seemed to be no different than any other person in his depressed community. But then, Lester crossed the line between socially awkward pervert to morally depraved criminal. His crimes were hard to read, as they involved necrophilia and murder. At first I was wondering, "What the hell is the point of all this?" But upon reflection, I see how Lester's downward spiral represents a return to the primal, especially since Lester ends his spree living in a cave. Could McCarthy's point, then, be that man, when isolated from all society and morality, naturally descends into cruelty, lack of empathy, and impulsiveness? It's a frightening thought. ( )
  StoutHearted | Sep 14, 2015 |
Deeply disturbing and brilliantly written. ( )
  JenLamoureux | Jun 24, 2015 |
Powerful, wild story presents a thorough examination of loneliness and lunacy (not necessarily in that order). The style is beautiful, the subject matter grim with very dark humor. Short but packs a wallop. A solid choice for those who like Faulkner, Southern Gothic fiction and contemplating the extremes of human behavior. ( )
  kishields | Jun 23, 2015 |
Despite numerous friends and strangers touting the wonderful novel, All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, I never could get much past the first 15-20 pages. This doesn’t happen that often, but when it does I must invoke the rule of 50. Then I read The Road and really enjoyed it. No Country for Old Men soon followed along with Blood Meridian. I decided to take at look at some of his earlier works, and I started with Child of God. This tense novel fits in nicely with the others I have read.

Lester Ballard has been falsely accused of rape for a woman he sees in the woods while hunting. The sheriff arrests him, but it soon becomes obvious he is innocent and released. The experience seems to have an effect on Lester, and he begins a slow spiral into bizarre behavior and insanity. The novel starts off gently, innocently, but as events unfold, the tension mounts. Sometimes – especially early on – I laughed at and with Lester, as he roamed the forested mountains of Eastern Tennessee.

Lester’s farm is about to be sold at auction. He protests, and someone hits him over the head. Lester is dazed, and blood trickles from his ears. This injury became a major factor in the rest of the novel.

McCarthy has a talent for setting his characters precisely where they belong. He writes, “Ballard descended by giant stone stairs to the dry floor of the quarry. The great rock walls with their cannelured faces and featherdrill holes composed about him an enormous amphitheatre. The ruins of an old truck lay rusting in the honeysuckle. He crossed the corrugated stone floor among chips and spalls of stone. The truck looked like it had been machine gunned. At the far end of the quarry was a rubble tip and Ballard stopped to search for artifacts, tilting old stoves and water heaters, inspecting bicycle parts and corroded buckets. He salvaged a worn kitchen knife with a chewed handle. He called the dog, his voice relaying from rock to rock and back again. // When he came out to the road again a wind had come up. A door somewhere was banging, an eerie sound in the empty wood. Ballard walked up the road. He passed a rusted tin shed and beyond it a wooden tower. He looked up. High up on the tower a door creaked open and clapped shut. Ballard looked around. Sheets of roofing tin clattered and banged and a white dust was blowing off the barren yard by the quarry shed. Ballard squinted in the dust going up the road. By the time he got to the county road it had begun to spit rain. He called the dog once more and he waited and then he went on (38-39).

This vivid writing is so intense, I expected something odd, or strange, or bizarre to happen at any moment. So early in the novel, I am lulled into the belief this was a story about a poor, unemployed mountain man trying to scratch out a meager existence. He was that, but as the novel unfolds, he becomes so much more.

Most definitely an adult novel, Cormac McCarthy's Child of God, will make the hair stand to attention. The ending I imagined to be inevitable did not happen. I read this brief novel in a little over two afternoons. I did not sleep well that night. 5 stars.

--Chiron, 5/10/15 ( )
  rmckeown | May 24, 2015 |
12. Child of God by Cormac McCarthy (1973, 197 page trade paperback, Read Feb 10-13)

Holy necrophilia. Mentally off and completely unsocial, Lester Ballard loses his land and carries on alone in a filthy abandoned house. He is full of desires, partly influenced by his habit of stumbling upon lovers in their cars, but he is unable to understand them. And then things just seem to take on a logic of their own. And there is a logic to it.

I enjoyed reading this, but it bothers me now thinking about it. It's funny and I think McCarthy was having fun. I imagine him not taking himself very seriously, other than working over the writing craft itself. I think he was poking fun at society by seeing how this creature would make his way in it. And I suspect he was intentionally trying to disturb and provoke his readers.

I don't think this is the one McCarthy book anyone should read, but if necrophilia and a few other rancid things don't turn you off, it's a fun book of an odd sort. ( )
  dchaikin | Mar 16, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
But the carefully cold, sour diction of this book--whose hostility toward the reader surpasses even that of the world toward Lester--does not often let us see beyond its nasty "writing" into moments we can see for themselves, rendered. And such moments, authentic though they feel, do not much help a novel so lacking in human momentum or point.

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They came like a caravan of carnival folk up through the swales of broomstraw and across the hill in the morning sun, the truck rocking and pitching in the ruts and the musicians on chairs in the truckbed teetering and tuning their instruments, the fat man with guitar grinning and gesturing to others in a car behind and and bending to give a note to the fiddler who turned a fiddlepeg and listened with a wrinkled face.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679728740, Paperback)

"Scuttling down the mountain with the thing on his back he looked like a man beset by some ghast succubus, the dead girl riding him with legs bowed akimbo like a monstrous frog." Child of God must be the most sympathetic portrayal of necrophilia in all of literature. The hero, Lester Ballard, is expelled from his human family and ends up living in underground caves, which he peoples with his trophies: giant stuffed animals won in carnival shooting galleries and the decomposing corpses of his victims. Cormac McCarthy's much-admired prose is suspenseful, rich with detail, and yet restrained, even delicate, in its images of Lester's activities. So tightly focused is the story on this one "child of God" that it resembles a myth, or parable. "You could say that he's sustained by his fellow men, like you.... A race that gives suck to the maimed and the crazed, that wants their wrong blood in its history and will have it."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:08 -0400)

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Falsely accused of rape, Lester Ballard is released from jail, and a trip to the dry-goods store, an errand to the blacksmith, and other incidents are transformed into scenes of the comic and the grotesque.

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