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Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

By Cormac McCarthy, 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.

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There was two main reasons for re-reading this novel in the month of October 2012, one was due to reading William Gay’s novel The provinces of night of which the title is taken from the opening sentence of a chapter from this novel. The second reason was Donald Ray Pollock’s recommendation to read this in a recent interview I had with him.
I am now more convinced that we have in our midst a great writer. In the first read of this and The Road I payed less attention to the prose and the whole way it was presented, and due to this it did not fare as well as it did now.

This story is the opposite to what the title may lead you to believe it is about, the main character is ungodly almost like he is a devilish entity creating havoc across the land.
McCarthy has crafted together a story successfully with master craftsmanship, containing a subject matter that is at times one of the most brutal and gruesome you would read of in a story.
This story reads like it was penned as a collaborative work by Jim Thompson and William Faulkner. Reminiscent of a recent good story with a similar darkness, The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock.

The main protagonist is a an individual whose disturbed, a sociopath, who does the unspeakable with the dead.
There are shocking moments, repulsive and bizarre, in one place in the story he carried off a dead woman, along with the squirrels he hunted, to a resting place to partake in unspeakable acts.
He also has the murder of a child to his name, there is yonder much toil, blood, and darkness.
The tale is shockingly, vivid, and terrible in content, but told in great sentences, with words in the right places.
Told by an author who can make the groutesque and terrible beautiful with his lyrical craftmanship.
The right length of novel that would linger in your mind either in shock or awe.


“To watch these things issuing from the otherwise mute pastoral morning is a man at the barn door. He is small, unclean, unshaven. He moves in the dry chaff among the dust and slats of sunlight with a constrained truculence. Saxon and Celtic bloods. A child of God much like yourself perhaps. Wasps pass in a through the laddered light from the barnslats in a succession of strobic moments, gold and trembling between black and black, like fireflies in the serried upper gloom.”

“Among the pines on the ridge the sound of the autioneer’s voice echoed muted, redundant. An illusion of multiple voices, a ghost chorus among old ruins.”

“Were there darker provinces of night he would have found them. Lying with his fingers plugged in the bores of his ears against the strident cheeping of the myriad black crickets with which he kept household in the barren cabin. One night on his pallet while half asleep he heard something scamper through the room and vault ghostly (he saw, struggling erect) through the open window. He sat there looking after it but it was gone. He could hear foxhounds in full cry, tortured wails and yelps nigh unto agony coming up the creek, up the valley. They flooded into the cabin yard in a pandemonium of soprano howls and crashing brush.”

“Going up a track of a road through the quarry woods where all about lay enormous blocks and tablets of stone weathered gray and grown with deep green mots, toppled monoliths among the trees and vines like traces of an older race of man. This rainy summer day. He passed a dark lake of silent fade where the moss walls rose sheer and plumb and a small blue bird sat slant upon a guywire in the void.”

” He had that rifle from when he was just almost a boy. He worked for old man Whaley settln fenceposts at eight cents a post to buy it. Told me he quit midmornin right in the middle of the field the day he got enough money. I don’t remember what he give for it but I think it come to over seven hundred posts.
Ill say one thing He could by god shoot it. Hit anything he could see. I seen him shoot a spider out of a web in the top of a big redoak one time and we was far from the tree as from here to the road yonder. They run him off out at the fair one time. Wouldn’t let him shoot no more.”

“He would arrange her in different positions and go out and peer in the window at her. After a while he just sat holding her, his hands feeling her body under the new clothes. He undressed her very slowly, talking to her. Then he pulled off his trousers and lay next to her…”




Cormac McCarthy is an American novelist, screenwriter, and playwright who has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. A number of his works have been adapted into films, including All the Pretty Horses, The Road, and the four-time Academy Award–winning No Country for Old Men.