Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

Lester Ballard has got hisself a few issues.  One, he ain't got no real home.  Which ain't a good thing for a young single man in the east Tennessee mountains of Appalachia, where the winters is something fierce. His first "home," if we can call it that, warnt nothin' more than an abandoned squatter's cabin used by hunters huntin' 'possum and squirrel.  Two rooms.  It was a good enough home for a guy like Lester while he had it, I suppose.  A bit lonesome out there in the boonies where all the backwoods, backwards loonies live, but damn if that Lester Ballard dint burn that cabin down one night just tryin' to stay warm!  Sparks from the decrepit chimbley must've slithered somehow into the attic, and Lester barely got out alive with his body and belongings intact.  Once his house burnt down, it was a complex of caves and sinkholes that Lester called "home."  Weird.

1st printing, 1973
What's a young man like Lester need to be hidin' out in caves and abandoned shacks for anyway?  Well, Lester has hisself a peculiar taste for necrophilia.  Necrophilia means having a proclivity for sexual intercourse with cadavers.  Sound distasteful?  Shoot, you ain't whistlin' Dixie!  But goddamn if that ain't 'ol vintage Cormac McCarthy for ya!  This here book a his was published in 1973, his third, and if it cain't be described as his most poetically violent, then maybe we can call it his most poetically vile.  And that ain't necessarily a criticism or complaint, but I'm on the fence myself (sort of), as I consider it in the dawning aftermath of this here strange reading experience, whether it's complimentary or not.  It's compelling, that's for shore.  Ain't no equivocatin' there on that regard.

So, Lester Ballard, the necrophiliac, I was a sayin'.  His first girlfriend, in Lester's defense, was at least already dead when he come acrost her, shot dead through the head in the backseat of a sedan with a man, also dead, lyin' atop her.  The radio of the car was still playin'.  Somethin' contemporary from the mid-1960s.

Hard to believe Lester lugged that female corpse a good mile on his shoulders back to his squatter's quarters, that cabin, I mentioned, 'fore it burnt down.  The cabin was barely visible from the rutted dirt road, but Lester knew the path well through the weeds that shot up all around the shack as high as the eaves, somewhere deep and forgotten in the old growth black pines a Tennessee.

Shore is a shame that Lester dint have time to rescue his dead girlfriend that fateful night his cabin burntdown.  He'd had her housed in the attic for the night.  He had a pulley system rigged up with ropes to get her down each day outta the ceilin' so he could spend some quality time lyin' naked with her on a muddy mattress he'd salvaged out of a junkyard.  But then came the fire that burnt her up and left nary a bone.  Sad.

After that sorrowful incident, Lester losin' his house — and his dearly beloved like that — well, I think it mighta finally sent him completely over the edge some.  Cuz after his home and woman burnt up, he starts a increasingly sneakin' and stalkin' thru the backwoods seekin' parked cars, where the frisky young folks of Appalachia out late at night was a "aimin' to screw".  But there'd be no screwin' once Lester Ballard shown up with his rifle, that's fer sure.

He killed yet another woman, later on, cuz she wouldn't let him see "her titties."  Simple request, yet  summarily denied.  Well, shoot.  Guess she didn't know that a slovenly serial killer necrophiliac's gotta do what a slovenly serial killer necrophiliac's gotta do!  Kill 'er.  And then have his way with her.  But damnit if her house too, along with her "idiot child" and his constant drool, dint burn all down to the snowy ground 'fore he could rescue her from the flames and consummate his impending relationship with her.  Dint even get to see "her titties" 'fore her titties turned to ashes.  Goddamn.

I best say no more.  Whether Lester Ballard, "a child of God," 'cordin' to Cormac, ever got caught or repented, I best leave for the future reader's suspense.  I will say you cain't read this here book, Child of God, and not be mesmerized, like you was watchin' fireflies dance all night long in a red clay cave, by the highly stylized words put together just right, like demonic dominoes topplin' over — clickclickclick (or sixsixsix) — keepin' ya readin' transfixed even though ya might cringe or shit yer filthy denim coveralls ain't been washed in years.  Er maybe reading it might make you upchuck the cornbread ya had for breakfast even.

The much maligned artifice (or widely praised artful prose of Cormac McCarthy -- take yer pick, cuz there ain't no middle ground concerning him) -- standing in stark contrast to the unequivocal ugliness of the subject matter (and some might argue, unforgivable ugliness of the subject matter), but I argue the former no matter what the subject matter when it comes to Cormac McCarthy:  A singularly devilish child of God among living authors.


  1. Hear, hear! I haven't read this one, but I do adore his prose.

  2. I cain't say I actually recommend this book to a woman, but damn if Cormac cain't write mighty fine. Thank ye!


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