Title: Child of God
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Number of Pages: 197
Genre: Crime Thriller
It took me a while to warm up to Cormac McCarthy’s writing style which, judging from Child of God, is low on punctuation and heavy on grotesque nightmare imagery and bodily functions. I had started both No Country for Old Men and The Road at some point or another and put them down early on because they weren’t really holding my interest. However, observing how short Child of God was, I decided to give it a shot.
This book is an experience akin to watching a train wreck; it’s a sordid, nasty excursion into necrophilia, incest, and nihilism that goes beyond any kind of redemption early and keeps sinking lower and lower into the depravity and filth of the main character, Lester Ballard. Ballard gets kicked off his own property and ends up living a basically feral existence in a cave. He eventually discovers he prefers his sexual partners dead when he comes across two corpses in a car, and he ends up becoming a serial killer who gathers his victims in the cave and has sex with them after death. Since the local law enforcement seems pretty much incompetent, Lester gets away with his crimes for a long time, losing any semblance of humanity he might or might not have ever had.
I have to admit I wasn’t sold on this book at first; I liked some of the writing and some o it just came off as wordy and self-indulgent. Here’s a snippet from an early scene where Lester sees two people having sex in a car (one of whom, to his disgust, is black) that actually made me laugh, in all the wrong ways. I don’t generally write excerpts from the book in my review, but this one was too classic to pass up on-
“A pair of white legs sprawled embracing a shade, a dark incubus that humped in a dream of slaverous lust.”
If I taught a creative writing class, that’s how I would teach my students NOT to write. But Cormac McCarthy is Cormac McCarthy and he can get away with it. Luckily, most of the writing isn’t that ridiculous, and the author manages to create some truly horrifying and unforgettable imagery (by unforgettable, I mean that there’s a good chance you’ll really, really want to forget it.) From the grotesque cast of characters to the bizarrely incompetent officials, there’s something about the novel that feels uncanny, like you’ve been thrown into a particularly disturbing nightmare.
Most of the characters besides Lester don’t really matter, they’re mostly just set pieces and if they’re memorable at all it’s probably because of how fucked up they are. For example, there’s a family that lives in a dump who feels like they came straight of of Game of Thrones, a man who got his bottom jaw ripped off fist fighting a gorilla, and a woman who’s mentally disabled son likes chewing the body parts off living animals.
Meanwhile, Lester Ballard is one of the most repugnant ‘protagonists’ I’ve encountered in fiction in a long time, second, perhaps, to Quentin P. in the Joyce Carol Oates novel Zombie. If there’s a lesson there’s a lesson to be gleaned from this story it seems to be that while Ballard is no one to be sympathized with, he is in many ways a product of his bleak and cruel environment. I appreciated the clarity of the world this novel created more than I ‘enjoyed’ it, and while I think it was a high-quality book I was a little bit relieved when it was over. Finally, I’m open to suggestions on whether or not to watch the film adaptation directed by James Franco and whether it’s any good or not. The theatrical trailer looked terrible, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
So, has anybody actually read this novel or watched the film? Let me know in the comments!