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Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
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Child of God (1973)

by Cormac McCarthy

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Lester Ballard, "a figure of wretched arrogance", is displayed here in all his rot and ruin. His hunger for depravity seems aptly set in the damp and cave-pocked humps and hollows of East Tennessee. This is an early work of McCarthy, and while his prose is like good bonded whiskey, it's not enough, in this case, to soften the raw, incessant acts of a character born seemingly from the gates of hell. ( )
  JamesMScott | Mar 19, 2014 |
Wow, such economy of words. A beautifully written tale of horror. ( )
  nbsp | Feb 24, 2014 |
Coming to this book, I knew only that the main character, Lester Ballard, had some strange ways, but I didn't know how strange until several chapters into the book. It is an interesting read; McCarthy has a way of making it seem dream-like: broken up, but still flowing together. I'm not sure that makes sense, but that's how it reads to me. He kept the chapters short, most being only a single scene: some shorter, some longer. The short chapters coupled with Lester's bizarre behavior keeps you turning the pages, not to mention the "need" to know what happens....

There is a strong link to mythology in most of McCarthy's work and this book is no different. There are trips to the underworld, shape-shifting and tragedy among other motifs.

Without giving away too much, I will say that this book is not for the faint of heart. If Nabokov's Lolita bothers you, then there is a possibility that this will, too. It isn't exactly the same as Lolita , but the deviance of Lester, the main character, is very pronounced as is that of Humbert Humbert. But, in the case of Child of God, Lester is not the narrator.

I wonder if you could still call Lester a protagonist? He does change, but not much. The reader gets the sense that he is depraved right from the beginning. It's the level, or depth, of his depravity that changes.

The writing itself will not disappoint fans of McCarthy. His prose, as always, is tight and musical; the critics like to call it poetic, which it is. It damn near sings. I give it four stars simply for the prose. The content gives me pause; that's not to say that we should ignore it, it's just more unsettling than a book with a happy-go-lucky attitude and a bright happy ending. McCarthy almost never has happy endings and this is no exception. He does have "just" endings on occasion, or endings in which those who deserve it get it, if you get my drift.

I will read it again, simply because I love McCarthy's writing and want to learn from him. If I were reading it as a reader only, once would be enough--maybe more than enough. ( )
  homericgeek | Feb 19, 2014 |
Having to date been a great fan of McCarthy I was surprised by how much I disliked Child Of God. Initially I was enjoying it - the trademark McCarthy language, the jokes, but then at some point the seemingly pointless squalor and visciousness of it all got to me. I could cope with the violence, the necrophilia (though I hoped my fellow commuters were not reading over my shoulder), the slimy rotting corpses, but it was the cruelty to animals which did for me - primed fire crackers shoved into living pigeons, and finally an incident with a giant idiot baby and a robin. With this last incident I just thought 'What is he thinking of? What goes on in this man's mind?' With a sort of horrified fascination I reread the passage a number of times, wishing I had never read it in the first place.

The novel opens with the auctioning of a farm, watched by the mentally unstable son of its former owner. He orders the auctioneer off the land, threatening to shoot him, but the auctioneer deals him a blow so savage that "Lester Ballard never could hold his head right after that. It must have throwed his neck out someway or another. I didn't see Buster hit him, but I seen him laying on the ground. ... ... He was laying flat on the ground looking up at everybody with his eyes crossed and this awful pumpknot on his head. He just laid there and he was bleeding at the ears. Buster was still standin there holdin the axe. They took him on in the county car and C B went on with the auction like nothin never had happent but he did say it caused some folks not to bid that otherwise would of, which may of been what Lester set out at, I don't know. John Greer was from up in Grainger County. Not sayin nothing against him but he was." Greer buys the farm and Ballard takes up an increasingly feral life in the local woods and hills.

Child Of God is a short book which would be best read at one sitting. Not only would that provide the opportunity to sink into the beauty of McCarthy's language, but it would probably give greater impact to Ballard's descent into total madness. I read it in bits over a number of days. There is a slightly odd structure in that the third party narrative is occasionally interrupted by short chapters in which unidentified locals talk to one another, sometimes about Ballard, sometimes about the Sheriff, sometimes just yarning. The narrative intermittently shifts to follow Sheriff Fate and his deputy. I feel that at some level there is a foreshadowing here of the structure of No Country For Old Men, a much later and more satisfying work, albeit far more mainstream. As the book progresses it seemed more akin to a shlock horror movie, glorying in grotesque goriness, seemingly with no other point.
4 vote Oandthegang | Jan 25, 2014 |
Lester Ballard has lost his property and home to the county and is forced to live in the woods and survive on his own. He becomes a purveyor of violence. Falsely accused of rape, Lester is released and proceeds to do worse, much worse. He’s a tortured soul, but “given charge Ballard would have made things more orderly in in the woods and in men’s souls.”

Cormac McCarthy writes about nature and violence with opposite approaches and a skill matched by few others. His descriptions of nature and the rural environ of East Tennessee serve to bring the setting to life. As descriptive as his world is, the violence that tears into it is short, sharp, matter of fact, and sometimes twisted. It is also economically doled out to intensify the impact on the story. His way with dialogue and succinct descriptions of people add up to a thoroughly satisfying novel.

William Gay picked up on McCarthy’s style and ran with it on his own, but McCarthy really has few peers. ( )
2 vote Hagelstein | Jan 5, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 33 (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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:47:33 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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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