Book Review: Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Child of God’

This will be a space to write reviews/thoughts/musings of books that I have read recently. I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum. All books rated on a scale of 1-5. I thought it fitting, as I named this blog after a line in a Cormac McCarthy novel (which also happens to be my favorite book of all time), to start this blog with McCarthy’s 1973 American gothic ‘Child of God’.

Cormac McCarthy, an American novelist and living literary legend, is not known for lighthearted fare and themes in his novels. His most popular novels include books about a gang of Indian scalpers in the age of the Wild West, a devastating post-apolocalyptic father-son story and a man running from a cold-blooded murderer after stealing drug money from a truck filled with dead cartel members. Needless to say, it’s not exactly summer beach reading.

That said, Child of God, which was McCarthy’s third novel and was written just over 40 years ago, is his darkest and most macabre book. The novel follows social outcast Lester Ballard and his descent into madness and living hell in the mountains of Tennessee. It is divided into three sections, each with a different narrative structure. The first paints Ballard as a misfit to be pitied, one who has his land taken from under his nose and struggles to fit in. It alternates between following Lester and stories about him from unnamed third parties, who foreshadow his downfall by giving reasons for why he has always been ‘different’.

The second section follows Lester and his spiral exclusively, as he begins to do some of the most fucked up things imaginable. This is not reading for the faint of heart or easily grossed out–I myself had to put the book down a couple of times and wrap my mind around what I was reading. The third, and final, section deals with the aftermath and the effects of what Lester has become.

This book is written in McCarthy’s usual style–minimal punctuation, beautiful descriptions, etc–but is an easier/less complicated read than Blood Meridian and indeed can be powered through pretty quickly. McCarthy does a masterful job of making you feel some sympathy for Lester Ballard through some parts of the book only to make you realize halfway through how much you’ve been following a true monster–and how this monster is really just a “child of God, much like yourself perhaps”.

The book is engrossing, disturbing and profoundly effective. It’s a great book, and I’ll never read it again.

Rating: ****


One thought on “Book Review: Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Child of God’

  1. Pingback: Book Review: All the Pretty Horses | Sometime the Wolf

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