Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy (1973)

Published in 1973, Cormac McCarthy's Child of God is an earthy book, full of intensely poetic prose, illuminating the land the protagonist, Lester Ballard, inhabits. Ballard, "a child of God, much like yourself perhaps" is a man cut loose from societal norms who roams the hills of Tennessee, trying just to live, and occupying himself with... unspeakable acts.

McCarthy brilliantly describes this child's descent into depravity, his bizarre yearnings, and the horrific results when his lusts are acted upon. And there is something childlike about Ballard, not innocence, but the ugly petulance of a child not getting what he wants. Not someone we sympathize with, much, but someone we watch with dreadful fascination. And there are other creatures in these hills, with strange speech patterns and worrisome familial relationships, making the movie Deliverance (released just a year before this was published) seem like a walk in the park.

But this is not just some sensationalized tale of hillbilly stereotypes and profligate degeneracy. There is much to meditate on here, not least of which is what happens to those people neglected, marginalized, on the fringes, forgotten. Nothing good really. They haven't forgotten us after all. Sounds like a drag, but it's a funny book too, with much twisted humor, albeit mostly at Ballard's expense.

Apparently this is being made into a movie directed by James Franco. Hopefully it will be as good as the other Cormac McCarthy books that have made it to film. But the movies don't have McCarthy's haunting and  hallucinatory prose, so you won't get descriptions like: "he moves along the barn wall, himself fiddlebacked with light, a petty annoyance flickering across the wall-ward eye".

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