Child of God
This is one that will stay with you for a little bit. It’s a simple little book and a very quick read, but it’s loaded with enough poetry, metaphor and imagery to keep you thinking for a while. I’m not normally a fan of really episodic narratives; they’re too choppy and I can’t get a good rhythm with the story or characters. But this one worked for me, and each short section is almost like a biblical chapter. . . it may not be occurring with the same characters or at the same time, but it’s all related to the whole.
It didn’t quite live up to the hopes I raised after the first half of the book, I imagine because its episodic nature did not allow for too much climactic trajectory. It was interesting because I read the book on a recommendation from a friend before reading the jacket description, so I had no idea what it was about. When I read the back cover, I was surprised to see the story described as quite sequential and linear, discussing an escalation in Ballard’s antisocial behavior (SPOILER. . . . . . . .) and implying that he only committed his crimes because he was falsely accused of rape.
The impression from my actual reading was much different and less concrete, really just of Lester sort of floating through his existence, being completely outcast and bitterly living down to his community’s worst expectations, each misanthropic episode connected to the last only insofar as they were all actions of an extremely sick mind. In other words, McCarthy’s structuring doesn’t lend itself toward a causal interpretation of Ballard’s behavior — he seems to me to be a man who was always destined to commit horrific acts, false accusation or no. (It’s possible that I just wasn’t paying close enough attention as I really don’t have enough free time these days to be reading somebody as rich as McCarthy.)
Anyway, I’m no expert and can’t confidently contradict the “official description,” all I can do is offer my impressions. This was my 4th McCarthy novel, and I liked it better than Outer Dark but not as well as The Road or No Country for Old Men (shamefully typical, I know). My main problem with it is that the ending wasn’t sufficiently impactful, I believe mostly because I felt little connection with Lester.
But it almost goes without saying that I continue to marvel at McCarthy’s command of dialogue, tone and grammar, in addition to several laugh-out-loud scenes (the story of the oxen and the fire is probably my favorite). I was also thankful to find in this book that he greatly reduced the pretentious fancy-word-flaunting of Outer.
And he’s still my favorite living author!