Gritty and disconcerting Nov 24, 2007
I am late discovering the sparse prose of Cormac McCarthy, as his first book, The Orchard Keeper, was published in 1965, and here I am just beginning to explore this literary genius. Admittedly, my main motivation for seeking out this legendary author was a news story about controversy surrounding a teacher who was suspended and is possibly facing criminal charges for allowing McCarthy's Child of God to make a ninth grade suggested reading list. I felt I was obligated to add another notch to my banned and challenged book belt. Plus, you know Oprah put The Road on her Book Club list and if Oprah says he's worth reading, then the masses must follow.
While I absolutely loathe censorship in any form, for any age, I can fathom some parents challenging Child of God being part of a high school curriculum. It doesn't really fit the benign and boring literature typical of assigned reading. In fact, some students might actually find it stimulating...in more than just an intellectual sense.
McCarthy's 1973 novel, supposedly inspired by true events that occurred in the town of Sevier, Tennessee, tells the disturbing story of Lester Ballard, a man falsely accused of rape, and set free to unleash his deviance upon the townspeople. Whether Lester is a product of his environment or an inwardly doomed being is unclear. McCarthy details Lester's own discovery of his father's suicide early in the book, and the loss of his home and unjust imprisonment may have contributed to his descent into lunacy.
Lester's key obsession is necrophilia, and while he does eventually become a murderer, his first venture into this distorted fetish is with a woman who did not perish by Lester's hands. This serves as a gateway crime in some twisted way. Repeatedly homeless, his victims eventually begin to collect in the hollows of the cave he has claimed as his dwelling. Displayed on ledges, the bodies decompose next to the enormous teddy bears Lester won at a county fair with his most valued possession, his rifle. Ironically, Lester himself appears dull and lifeless, unloved and unable to love, a mere shell of a man lacking emotion and depth.
McCarthy's narrative alternates expertly between sparse bluntness and embellished run on sentences compiled into brief chapters. The novel can be absorbed on many levels. It is all at once a psychological thriller, an existential study and a gruesome horror tale. Dark and foreboding, Child of God makes the Breeni Books required reading list.