Cormac McCarthy,
Child of God
(Picador, 1973)

Child of God is book I neither love nor hate, although everyone who has read told me it is one or the other. Maybe it will grow on me in time, or maybe it will still just be a book I quite liked. Either way, it is definitely worth a read. This book, however, is hard to recommend to many people because it features a main character influenced by Ed Gein, the serial killer who liked to play with dead bodies. Much like Gein, the main character is not likable or someone you are able to relate to, but he is interesting.

Child of God is a book about a loner named Lester Ballard who lives alone in the woods. Ballard also likes to play with dead bodies. After being falsely accused of raping a woman in the woods, Lester develops the habit of forcing himself on women he kills.

The book is the slow, burning tale of Lester Ballard, a little bit of his backstory, and the anticipation of what will happen next. It is also a study of how a person can break down further into insanity because of isolation.

Cormac McCarthy is a unique author; he is able to get away with having a writing style similar to Hemingway's in the 21st century, and people love it! His descriptions seem like they aren't saying anything, yet somehow you come away being able to see everything exactly as he wants you to. His descriptions are very well written, and his lack of use of quotations, and sometimes commas, doesn't take away from the story, but further immerses you into it. It lets you hear the Appalachian accents, and you can picture the town much easier. Much like Hemingway, though, the descriptiveness can wear thin after a while. I love being able to see what the writer wants me to see, however a novel with a focus on description can cause readers, including me, to start skimming.

Now hear me out, this is no story that you'd happily share over family dinner, unless that family dinner happens to include a serial killer, but this is a story you should read. It is vulgar, filthy and dark, but it is without a doubt interesting. While necrophilia and serial killing are parts of the story, they are used as tools to tell a story of loneliness and nature vs. nurture. Lester Ballard had a rough upbringing in the story, his father and mother died young, and he was left to fend for himself. However, this upbringing isn't all that unique in Appalachia (the setting of this novel). The thing that pushes Lester over the edge of sanity is possibly not his poor circumstances and unlucky childhood, but his lack of friendship and companionship. Humans are animals that were meant to socialize, to live in groups, but Lester is as solitary as they come. His home, much like him, is just a shell; he is no longer human, just as his home is no longer a house. Whether the case is people being afraid of him or he just doesn't talk, Lester doesn't socialize healthily in the novel or the backstory.

Lester is a perverted and sick individual, giving the daughters of acquaintances sexual looks when they are obviously unwanted. However, the book makes you think whether the sickness could have been avoided if his descent in aloneness had been stopped. McCarthy leaves it up to the reader to decide whether Lester is naturally sick, or whether he was made that way after years of being alone.

One of my biggest complaints about this book is one I have for the other two Cormac McCarthy novels I've read: the characters are bland. Maybe McCarthy has a reason for this blandness, but I can't figure it out. The characters are not remarkable, but they are also not everyman type characters. I only remembered two characters from this novel, and neither had any distinguishing features other than, of course, Lester's sickness. Maybe I am missing something, but I like my characters to be more distinguishable and realistic, and McCarthy does not succeed with that in this novel.

McCarthy is a unique novelist, and I would describe many of his books as being "bare-bones," but this is not a bad thing. He says what he needs to say, and describes things in few words, but everything gets across wonderfully.

This book is very strange, very dark and very unsettling, and I would recommend only to people who could stomach the content, which includes necrophilia, murder and rape. While this book isn't as violent and disgusting as American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, it is definitely disturbing.

book review by
Vlady Kozubnyak

27 December 2014

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