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Thread: Child Of God, by Cormac McCarthy

  1. #1
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Child Of God, by Cormac McCarthy

    Whenever I think I’m starting to feel a little too comfortable I’ll read a Cormac McCarthy novel. Then for the next month or so I’m all jumpy, walking around with a furled brow, looking at people I think I know in a different way, thinking I see deeper meanings in ordinary things. I can’t read his stuff too often.

    So has anybody here read Child Of God? Does anybody feel like chatting about it? Has anybody got any insights into it?
    Some people call me Maurice
    'Cos I speak of the pompatus of love

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    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Wellcome back, Sancho. It´s good to "hear" from you.

    I don´t know anything about him. But why don´t you write something, your impressions, a summary or ...? I think that might attract attention.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

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    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Hiya Danik. Thanks. It’s good to be back and good to “hear” you as well. Also you’re right, so I’ll start.

    ***Spoiler Alert***

    The main character, Lester Ballard, is a miscreant. Or rather he starts out as socially inept and then gradually devolves into a full-blown miscreant.

    His housing accommodations track his descent. The story begins with Lester’s farm being auctioned off, presumably due to the failure to pay county taxes. Lester is there (with his rifle) and lets everybody know he his not happy about the situation. The sheriff knocks him silly with an axe handle and the auction goes on. Lester then moves to a dilapidated cabin, then to a cave in the mountains, then across a flooded creek and into a sink hole, and finally he is committed to an asylum for the criminally insane.

    As far as I can tell Lester has no redeeming qualities, except perhaps that he is a really good shot with his rifle. He is introduced to us on the first page of the novel:

    “...from the otherwise mute pastoral morning is a man at the barn door. He is small, unclean, unshaven. He moves in the dry chaff among the dust and slats of sunlight with a constrained truculence. Saxon and Celtic bloods. A child of God much like yourself perhaps.”
    Some people call me Maurice
    'Cos I speak of the pompatus of love

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    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Thanks, Sancho, one gets the picture, even if one hasn´t read the book. From what perspective is it written, from a moral or a social one?
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

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    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Well...I’m still trying to suss that out. I think the book is written in such a way that the reader can approach it from a social or a moral standpoint. Or both at the same time.

    Do social factors result in Lester’s amorality? As we go along we learn that Lester’s Mom “ran off” when he was young and his father hanged himself in the barn. Lester had few friends growing up and he got into fights at school. His attempts to woo women are pathetic and generally met with scorn. Don’t forget he’s a little guy and probably has a bad case of ‘short-man syndrome’.

    The book was published in 1973. And as I read along I couldn’t help but to be reminded of a recent school shooting in this country where the shooter left behind a manifesto in which he referred to himself as an ‘Incel’ or ‘involuntary celibate’. McCarthy sure did a nice job imagining Lester as a sort of proto-incel.

    If anything, Lester’s moral behavior is somewhere south of a simple school shooter’s behavior. I know that sounds weird but read the book and you tell me. So, is redemption possible for Lester? Is there even such a thing as redemption? Is the idea of God and redemption all just a human invention anyway?
    Some people call me Maurice
    'Cos I speak of the pompatus of love

  6. #6
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    The point you make about the "incel" is interesting, Sancho, and might allow also a psychological approach. It also reminded me of a school shooting in US, where, I believe, the shooter, he himself a shoolboy, left a video stating rejection by girls as the cause of the shooting.
    I had a look at wikipedia meanwhile, it´s not the kind of book I myself would like to read, we have some of it in the news almost every day.
    But others may want to read it.

    About redemption, a very tentative answer. I think one has to believe in redemption first and then one has to want it. I don´t know if this is the case of your character. He seems to degrade into a subhuman condition.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

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    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    It’s not the type of book I tend to read very often either, Danik, but every 3 or 4 years I’ll read a Cormac McCarthy novel. So far my McCarthy reading list has gone like this: Blood Meridian, No Country For Old Men, The Road, All The Pretty Horses, and now Child Of God.

    I first read Blood Meridian and came away from it stunned. I was amazed at the attention McCarthy put into getting the language of the period right. At first I was a little put out by the violence, but somehow, despite my less than stellar academic career, managed to intuit this was no slasher novel.

    It seems the reviewer of Child Of God for The New York Times was likewise put out by the violence and in fact by the whole idea of the book. So I surfed around the web reading reviews and it looks like there’s no middle ground with this book. People either love it or they hate it. But it does evoke strong emotions on both sides.

    So anyway your “subhuman” comment triggered a thought. There’s a short vignette in it about a traveling carnival. It starts with one of the townspeople telling a story about a carny who cheated people at shooting game - didn’t play by the rules - then moves on to another contest in which you could win 50 dollars if you could stay in the boxing ring with an ape for 3 minutes. Naturally the guy telling the story gets in the ring with the gorilla (subhuman) and starts boxing him in the head, no doubt thinking the game is a boxing match. Well the gorilla gets angry -

    ...his eyes went kindly funny...and about that time he jumped right on top of my head and crammed his foot in my mouth and like to tore my jaw off. I couldn’t even holler for help. I thought they never would get that thing off of me.
    I suppose a subhuman doesn’t play by human rules.
    Some people call me Maurice
    'Cos I speak of the pompatus of love

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    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    So there was a vignette in the book I actually laughed out loud at. Lester finds a rusty axe head and takes it to a blacksmith for sharpening. The smith tells him that simply sharpening the axe won’t do him much good. He then proceeds to temper and forge the blade all the while going through an elaborate description of what he’s doing for Lester’s benefit. (It was a superb description of the smithing process of hardening steel and it honestly gave me a hankering to go out to my barn and work a couple of old axe heads I have there) Anyway once he finishes, he says to Lester, “Reckon you could do it now from watchin?” Lester comes back with, “Do what”

    That cracked me up and I originally just took it to mean just that Lester is a bit of dullard. But one of the on-line reviewers clued me in. The rest of the exchange went like this:

    It’s like a lot of things, said the smith. Do the least part of it wrong and ye’d just as well to do it all wrong. He was sorting through handles standing in a barrel. Reckon you could do it now from watchin? he said.

    Do what, said Ballard.
    Meaning once you’ve done “the least part of it wrong” you’ve passed a point of no return and you’d “just as well do it all wrong.” Well, Lester was about to cross that line in life.
    Some people call me Maurice
    'Cos I speak of the pompatus of love

  9. #9
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    There is a review about Blood Meridian by Pompey Bum buried somewhere in this forum. I didn't,t realise this was the same author. It seems he goes to the core of human violence and degradation. One has to have stomach to read it.
    I get your idea, though I never think of animals as subhuman. Of course an author that depicts extreme violence would also describe animal violence.

    These kind of books sets one thinking about one's reality and it's relationship to violence.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  10. #10
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Pompey Bum, he’s a smart one, eh?

    I agree with you totally about the term “subhuman” for a gorilla. We humans are an arrogant species - am I right? In fact when I wrote that post I wondered if it would raise anyone’s hackles. Speaking of which, “raising one’s hackles” as a metaphor for a human’s animalistic wariness may be questionable as well. You can drive yourself nuts trying to parse your speech so as not to offend anyone.

    Hey, another very un-PC use of the word “subhuman” is in reference to someone who is mentally challenged. At one point in the story Lester goes over to a house and in a very Lester-esk way tries to romance the woman there. (“Lemme see dem titties”) In the house is a toddler who is referred to by both of them as the idiot. Lester brings the child a live bird to play with and the child almost immediately chews off one of the bird’s legs. In a moment of understanding and connection with the child, Lester says something like, “He only did it so it wouldn’t run off.” You might say Lester and the idiot saw things eye to eye.
    Some people call me Maurice
    'Cos I speak of the pompatus of love

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