By the author of the critically acclaimed Border Trilogy, "Child of God" is a taut, chilling novel that plumbs the depths of human degradation. Lester Ballard, a violent, solitary and introverted young backwoodsman dispossessed on his ancestral land, is released from jail and allowed to haunt the hill country of East Tennessee, preying on the ...
By the author of the critically acclaimed Border Trilogy, "Child of God" is a taut, chilling novel that plumbs the depths of human degradation. Lester Ballard, a violent, solitary and introverted young backwoodsman dispossessed on his ancestral land, is released from jail and allowed to haunt the hill country of East Tennessee, preying on the population with his strange lusts. McCarthy transforms commonplace brushes with humanity - in homesteads, stores and in the woods - into stunning scenes of the comic and the grotesque, and as the story hurtles toward its unforgettable conclusion, depicts the most sordid aspects of life with dignity, humour, and characteristic lyrical brilliance. "Demands its reader's attention from the opening sentence" - "Newsweek". "A reading experience so impressive, so 'new', so clearly well made that it seems almost to defy the easy aesthetic categories ...Accomplished in rare, spare, precise yet poetic prose" - New Republic. "His prose, unfailingly beautiful and exact, carries us into a dreamworld of astonishing and violent revelation. It is a frightening, entrancing world, which we must finally recognize as our own" - Tobias Wolff. "McCarthy is a powerful and talented writer, able to elicit compassion for his protagonist however terrible his action" - Sunday Times.
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Having lived in Sevier County since 1995, it's easy to see the insight behind this work. The basic underbelly has diminished, because of the 10 million tourists who visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park yearly, plus the construction of 10K cabins over the past decade, but the main characterization still lurks nearby - too close for comfort?
You'uns know what I'm talking about.
Nov 24, 2007
Gritty and disconcerting
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.
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