Child of God by Cormac McCarthy tells the tale of Lester Ballard, a sociopathic man who, after being falsely accused of rape, attempts to live his fractured life on the fringes of society, wandering the hill country of Eastern Tennessee.
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The novel is separated into three sections, each of which details Lester's fallout from the established social order. In part one, Ballard's ancestral home is put up for auction; he threatens to shoot the auctioneer, but is taken down by a Sheriff before he can follow through. From then on he goes on the lamb, ceaselessly attempting to pick up on women about town with crude and ineffective results.
In part two of the novel, Ballard wanders up what is known as Frog Mountain, nestled in the hill country of his native region. There he finds a young woman sleeping on the ground. He attempts to wake her, but when he succeeds she regards him with terror, lobbing her camping equipment at him. Ballard, in a rage, rips off her nightgown and leaves her there naked. The next morning, Ballard is notified that he has been accused of rape, and has a warrant out for his arrest. He then spends some time in lockup, but is released without sufficient evidence.
In the third part of the book, Ballard returns to wandering the hills. There he finds a car with the engine still running, and within which discovers a couple that appears to have died while engaging in sexual intercourse. Ballard, as he continues to sink into depravity, engages in necrophilia with the deceased woman. He then removes her from the car, takes her to his soon-to-be-sold home, and engages in intercourse with her again. In the process of doing this, an unexplained source sets off a fire that burns down his house, and he flees. He then goes over to one of his friend's home and solicits his daughter for sex. When she refuses, he shoots her and burns that house down as well.
In the final pages of the book, Ballard takes up residence in a mountain cave and steals food from a local farmer named Greer in order to keep himself alive. When caught Ballard then attempts to kill the farmer and is then taken off to jail in the process, where he is accused of murdering several women around town. The police demand that Ballard lead them to the location of the deceased women, and when he agrees, is able to loose them in the hills. He survives off river water and rats in a cave, until he eventually wanders out of the hills and checks himself into a mental hospital. Later on, the bodies of the missing girls are discovered, but Ballard is never charged with their murders.
Best part of story, including ending:
I really liked this story because it deals with a particularly difficult character, and renders you fascinated with his pathology. I think it's amazing when an author is able to make you read about someone that you despise. Also, Cormac McCarthy's prose is incredible.
Best scene in story:
Well, the most memorable scene is when Ballard discovers a dead couple in a car, and proceeds to do terrible things to the woman's body. I wouldn't say it was my favorite (that would denote that I enjoyed it), but I would say that it was the most skillfully written and shocking moment in the book. The moment where the character truly unhinges himself from reality, and turns into something inhuman. Apparently the character (Lester Ballard) is based on a truly infamous member of the KKK in the deep south. I was just amazed at how McCarthy was able to render an entire novel about someone so awful.
Opinion about the main character:
Lester Ballard? He's a sociopathic criminal without an ounce of respect for human life or otherwise. His journey is an exercise in plumbing the depths of depravity, and I still often ask myself what possessed this virtuosic writer to put such a foul creature into words. Ballard has no redeeming qualities, which I think was purposeful on McCarthy's behalf. It's almost like reading No Country for Old Men from the perspective of Anton Chigurh's stupid understudy. It's brilliantly written, however, and fascinating to the point where I read it straight through in a manner of hours. Watching Lester Ballard as he sinks into the gutter of existence is a thrilling, frightening experience.