Thursday, January 12, 2012

book review: Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

"It was quiet in the room. After a while the man behind his desk lowered his hands and folded them in his lap. Mr Ballard, he said. You are either going to have to find some other way to live or some other place in the world to do it."

What you get with McCarthy is a world that is undefined. You don't get the specifics of time, the lack of quotation marks means speech blurs into thoughts and actions and it's not always clear where the line between wrong and right starts and ends.

The result is a reading experience that challenges you to stick with a main character who over time becomes a serial killer and a necrophiliac. Lester Ballard is introduced as a man about to lose his home to auction. After that he becomes a wanderer and lives in a shack until he stumbles across a couple that have committed suicide in a car. Their last act before the fumes overtook them was to make love and it is the naked couple that Ballard discovers.

You can tell he is struggling to control his emotions as he goes to and from the car stealing money, drink and eventually after several return visits entering new dark territory by stealing the female corpse. This becomes his possession both sexually and in terms of company as he dresses her and lies with her by the fireside in his shack.

Accused wrongly of rape a spell in jail reintroduces Ballard to the local law enforcement and you sense he will meet them again later as his killing spree grows.

He doesn't stumble across a couple dead in a car again so he has to put the death into the situation shooting out with his rifle and taking the female corpses back to a cave he lives in after his shack burns down.

As he slides into madness and starts wearing female clothes he becomes even more isolated from reality. This is deepened by deep snows, then a flood which cuts Ballard off from the town. That gives the madness time to take hold but his luck runs out when he tries to shoot the owner of his old home and comes off second best in a rifle versus shotgun fight.

But Ballard never quite faces up to his crimes and just as in other McCarthy novels the question of whether he should have felt guilt is one that the reader is left to wrestle with.

"You think people was meaner then than they ware now? the deputy said.
The old man was looking out at the flooded town.
No, he said. I don't. I think people are the same from the from the day God first made one."

Although very readable this is not a pretty work of fiction in terms of subject matter and the images you are left with are earth, caves, corpses, rifles and the worse kind of sex. I'm trying to work out quite what enjoying this read means about me.


Parrish Lantern said...

The only McCarthy I've read so far is The Sunset Ltd (although I have The Road) which I posted on a while ago & it starts with a man saved from killing himself under a train & 2 characters argue the existence of god, again it leaves you with the questions.

Simon Quicke said...

Not read that one but will look out for it now you have mentioned it.