Child of God – Cormac McCarthy

Originally posted May, 2012:

child - Copy

More Travels With Cormac

I’ve just started reading The Crossing, second in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy. Those following this blog will know I started reading his work with No Country for Old Men, and then All The Pretty Horses. I have written about the wonderful, lengthy compound sentence structures he uses in that latter novel mentioned, and he continues with these in The Crossing.

I am writing now briefly about Child of God, his novella that I have just finished. In looking for a copy of a cover to post with this, I read that the book was written in 1974 [I hadn’t looked when I read!]. Shows how stupid I am: I perceived of him as a modern writer, in a recent time sense, not the literary one of which he clearly is ‘modern’. It must have been prompted by a sense of the recent movie of NCFOM, and The Road, which I haven’t yet read. And ATPH was written in 1992. It hadn’t struck me that he had started writing and was published in the sixties. And I have only really taken note of him this year. Astonishing.

Child of God is a brilliantly and at times beautifully written story of the disgusting and despicable Lester Ballard, a man-thing who roams and ruts and routs around the hill country of East Tennessee. I’m not sure that there is a classic tension in what we as readers feel about this nasty protagonist, who is never even an anti-hero, and who never seeks our forgiveness or understanding either consciously or otherwise. I don’t believe McCarthy does. Ballard’s isolation both socially and physically in the story isn’t compromised by any authorial hand-holding. You must read this to experience the degradation for yourselves. The only one of two palliatives I can offer is that there are moments of humour. But they don’t last long.

The other is the writing style. At times, this sickening story is expressed so poetically that this could provide the only chance of being serenaded to some kind of empathy, but it is never about a Macbeth who is given salvation and redemption though a heightened language. There are many styles too, from vivid description to first person vernacular by unidentified speakers. Near the end, the sheriff and his deputy think and express themselves as templates for the Sheriff in No Country for Old Men. Here, fairly randomly, are two poetic narrations: the first about fireworks –

High above their upturned faces it burst, sprays of glycerine flaring across the night, trailing down the sky in loosely falling ribbons of hot spectra soon burnt to naught. Another went up, a long whishing sound, fishtailing aloft. In the bloom of its opening you could see like its shadow the image of the rocket gone before, the puff of black smoke and ashen trails arcing out and down like huge and dark medusa squatting in the sky

and the second, hounds attacking a boar –

Ballard watched this ballet tilt and swirl and churn mud up through the snow and watched the lovely blood there in its holograph of battle, spray burst from a ruptured lung, the dark heart’s blood, pinwheel and pirouette, until shots rang and all was done

There are countless more, some where the poetry is more lyrically in tune with the qualities being described, others even more antithetical in the grotesque juxtapositions of beautiful language and horrific events/situations. In this respect, there is schizophrenia in the reading, and I highly recommend the madness.

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