Child of God
I’m afflicted with some sort of brain fog at the moment, which makes it difficult to express myself. However, I have just finished Child of God and would like to get my thoughts down on paper, as quickly as possible, before they evaporate.
This novel grabbed me from its first carnivalesque paragraph, but didn’t follow in the direction I expected it to take. It tells the story of Lester Ballard, a loner and outsider in every sense of the word. The story unfolds as a sort of descent into hell, with Lester’s actions becoming increasingly depraved.
He lives a feral existence on the outskirts of a rural community, which gives McCarthy scope to include some beautifully poetic descriptions of Lester’s environment. This stands in extreme contrast to Lester’s lifestyle, which sees him progress from voyeur to murderer to necrophile.
Lester cannot relate to other human beings in any conventional sense and so apes romantic relationships in a grotesque manner. He has no conversation, he is seemingly repulsive to other people, especially women, and seems driven by loneliness and sexual frustration to mimic courtship behaviour in a shocking and perverse way.
This was McCarthy’s third novel and is sometimes described as his ‘southern gothic’ or ‘Tennessee gothic’ period. However, having read his later post-apocalyptic novel, The Road, I can see an obvious development and similarity in themes.
The Road has survival as its focus, but pivots on a loving relationship between father and son. The difference between them, and the others who are also trying to survive in their dystopian environment, is their unwillingness to descend into animalistic behaviour or to lose their sense of goodness. Lester Ballard, on the other hand, seems to have no empathy or moral compass, unable to sustain any form of loving relationship, his life is solely about gratification of basic needs and physical survival.
And yet, McCarthy tells us very early on in the novel, that Lester Ballard is just like us: he is a Child of God.
The implications of this, take this novel way beyond a simple murder story, into the realms of metaphysics and spirituality, which makes it a far more interesting read than I expected.