on January 1st 1973
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
In this taut, chilling novel, Lester Ballard--a violent, dispossessed man falsely accused of rape--haunts the hill country of East Tennessee when he is released from jail. While telling his story, Cormac McCarthy depicts the most sordid aspects of life with dignity, humor, and characteristic lyrical brilliance.
“In October 2007, Child of God was removed from Tuscola, Texas’ Jim Ned High School and canceled from the school library’s order list after one student’s parents challenged the book’s inclusion and even registered an official complaint with the sheriff’s office charging the teacher who included the book on an optional reading list with providing material “harmful to minors” to their daughter. The parents objected to violence, sexual themes, and profanity in the book.”
‘Each leaf that brushed his face deepened his sadness and dread. Each leaf he passed he’d never pass again. They rode over his face like veils, already some yellow, their veins like slender bones where the sun shone through them.’
Lester Ballard is a man born into hardship and is seemingly cursed with tragedy. His mother leaves him and his father when he was young and he is the first to find his father’s body hanging from the rafters when he is just ten years old forcing him to seek help from the townsfolk to get his body down. This requires a quick advancement in maturity considering he’s all by himself and there’s no one left to care for him and the small town he resides in has no intention of doing him any favors.
Lester being made an outcast in his own community is one of the major themes of the novel. He’s constantly rejected by everyone for being strange and different yet he never fails to continue trying to find his place in the town. Their rejection and judgment becomes borderline cruel when he isn’t even accepted within the walls of the church. In addition to the desire for a place in the community, what he desires more is a connection with a woman and he receives nothing but disgust from the female gender. This ongoing rejection can easily be blamed for the reason he took the path he did because he grew up isolated and lacks any sort of moral compass or understanding of right and wrong. His first crime occurs when he stumbles upon the car of a man and a woman who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the midst of having sex. He decides to not only have sex with the woman but he takes her body back to his house. While it’s easy to be immediately repulsed, it’s actually quite rueful if you consider that this was the first woman he encountered in his life that didn’t immediately run from him in disgust. It’s deplorable, yes, but it’s also pitiable.
What’s most impressive is the fact that McCarthy is able to portray Lester as a morally perplexed human being rather than the quick to judge “psychopath” description that is equally fitting. It’s surprisingly difficult not to feel as least a modicum of pity for the man who was left to raise himself at the age of ten, was later tossed out of his own house and left with no where else to go and forced to live in an abandoned house that just barely protects him from the elements. While this obviously doesn’t excuse him from his horrible crimes (I don’t believe that was ever McCarthy’s intention anyways) it does depict him as an actual person, a child of God, and not a monster and that’s quite possibly even scarier.
McCarthy abandons literary standards by flipping between different writing styles seemingly at random and fails to utilize quotation marks which never fails to infuriate me. Trying to decipher who is talking and when they’re actually talking and not just thinking… that should never be an issue. The various use of prose strewn throughout the novel was definitely a break from the truly ugly story this was and was most welcome.
This book came under fire when a teacher in Tuscola, Illinois asked his Freshman aged pre-Advanced Placement students to choose the book they wish to read for a book report. The parents of a young girl were so offended by the material that the teacher provided their 14 year-old child that they filed an official complaint with the sheriff’s office. From what I can find, no charges stuck with the teacher but this is still appalling. While I can agree this book covers material that may not be suitable for a 14 year old (The main character kills several people and rapes the corpses of women. Another character rapes his daughter.) however I think in this case monitoring of reading material should be handled by the parents. They could have easily had their child pick another book from the list. Charges against the teacher? That’s ludicrous. In addition to that, the banning of this book (or any book) only limits how a person is informed and prevents sheltering an individual from the harsh realities of the world. This story is inspired by actual events in Sevier County, Tennessee so while I don’t believe it’s the best book for a young person, I do not believe it should be banned because I’d rather have a child that’s informed and aware about the world rather than one that walks this Earth oblivious.