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Child of God Paperback – June 29, 1993

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Editorial Reviews Review

"Scuttling down the mountain with the thing on his back he looked like a man beset by some ghast succubus, the dead girl riding him with legs bowed akimbo like a monstrous frog." Child of God must be the most sympathetic portrayal of necrophilia in all of literature. The hero, Lester Ballard, is expelled from his human family and ends up living in underground caves, which he peoples with his trophies: giant stuffed animals won in carnival shooting galleries and the decomposing corpses of his victims. Cormac McCarthy's much-admired prose is suspenseful, rich with detail, and yet restrained, even delicate, in its images of Lester's activities. So tightly focused is the story on this one "child of God" that it resembles a myth, or parable. "You could say that he's sustained by his fellow men, like you.... A race that gives suck to the maimed and the crazed, that wants their wrong blood in its history and will have it."

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In this taut, chilling novel, Lester Ballard--a violent, dispossessed man falsely accused of rape--haunts the hill country of East Tennessee when he is released from jail. While telling his story, Cormac McCarthy depicts the most sordid aspects of life with dignity, humor, and characteristic lyrical brilliance.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (June 29, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679728740
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679728740
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (228 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #28,203 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Cormac McCarthy was born in Rhode Island. He later went to Chicago, where he worked as an auto mechanic while writing his first novel, The Orchard Keeper. The Orchard Keeper was published by Random House in 1965; McCarthy's editor there was Albert Erskine, William Faulkner's long-time editor. Before publication, McCarthy received a traveling fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which he used to travel to Ireland. In 1966 he also received the Rockefeller Foundation Grant, with which he continued to tour Europe, settling on the island of Ibiza. Here, McCarthy completed revisions of his next novel, Outer Dark. In 1967, McCarthy returned to the United States, moving to Tennessee. Outer Dark was published by Random House in 1968, and McCarthy received the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Writing in 1969. His next novel, Child of God, was published in 1973. From 1974 to 1975, McCarthy worked on the screenplay for a PBS film called The Gardener's Son, which premiered in 1977. A revised version of the screenplay was later published by Ecco Press. In the late 1970s, McCarthy moved to Texas, and in 1979 published his fourth novel, Suttree, a book that had occupied his writing life on and off for twenty years. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981, and published his fifth novel, Blood Meridian, in 1985. All the Pretty Horses, the first volume of The Border Trilogy, was published by Knopf in 1992. It won both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and was later turned into a feature film. The Stonemason, a play that McCarthy had written in the mid-1970s and subsequently revised, was published by Ecco Press in 1994. Soon thereafter, Knopf released the second volume of The Border Trilogy, The Crossing; the third volume, Cities of the Plain, was published in 1998.McCarthy's next novel, No Country for Old Men was published in 2005. This was followed in 2006 by a novel in dramatic form, The Sunset Limited, originally performed by Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago and published in paperback by Vintage Books. McCarthy's most recent novel, The Road, was published in 2006 and won the Pulitzer Prize.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

158 of 175 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Kendall VINE VOICE on December 7, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Cormac McCarthy is one of the most accessible of modern authors. This in no way diminishes his accomplishments, as he is adept at so many facets of the writer's art. His prose blends perfectly the spare and the lyrical. His pacing is flawless. The reader is swept up into his cadences, secure in the knowledge that he/she will be expertly guided through the thickets and brambles to the clearing ahead, also assured that there would be no needless detours along the way. We are never overburdened with needless detail. Characters are believable and delineated concretely. The reader's senses are awakened to sensory impressions that are visceral. We "remember" what he describes.
<Child of God> is a great example of this master storyteller's art. It is a novel without any hint at artifice. It can be read by virtually anyone. What distinguishes it from equally "accessible" works is that it can be read on so many levels. In other words, it is a work that naturally has broad appeal. It will appeal to those who enjoy reading about disturbed murderers and psychopaths. On the other hand it will hold enormous interest to readers who are thoroughly familiar with the Southern Gothic fiction of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor. Not to denigrate McCarthy, but on the surface, this work might even be called "Faulkner Lite.
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54 of 59 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 9, 1999
Format: Paperback
No one finishes Child of God with an indifferent impression. Usually I'm sad to finish a good book, but I was happy when this one was over. Child of God is not a modern day morality tale but a complex book that produces a healthy confusion of pleasure and disquietude. The pleasure is derived from the beautiful language, language especially effective when used to describe a character. It's the subject matter which made my mind uncomfortable. The details are too real, the subject too macabre for a moral human to enjoy. At times Lester Ballard seems closer to the "sympathetic apes" in the story than to a man with a conscience. The first sentence and last twenty pages alone are worth the purchase price of the book; what comes in between will race your pulse and curdle your stomach. Don't read this on a camping trip in the woods, but read it.
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"The travails of a homeless, retarded necrophiliac killer roaming the hills of Kentucky. It sounds like a joke but somehow, it's not. (Though, if I were John Waters, I'd option it immediately.) Not only do you take this ghoul seriously, once you're halfway through the book, you realize you're on his side. Without psychologizing, or even getting into the protagonist's completely non-reflective head, McCarthy makes us understand him; what he's doing makes total sense to him, given what he knows. He comes to seem merely an extreme version of all people - blind, cosmically and comically ignorant, doing what makes sense to us given what we know."
- Mary Gaitskill From The Salon**com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors, pg 156.

Mary Gaitskill has given the best description of this novel that I've read anywhere, going so far as to suggest that it almost seems jokey in description. I can roughly imagine what would happen to someone trying to pitch this idea to a publisher or a producer today. Almost.

I will say this with absolute certainty: this book is a MASTERPIECE. McCarthy is a master. He is a master of language most of all. He is a master of manipulation. He's given us a character nearly void of emotion and interior and yet we find ourselves choking on our own emotions.

Lester Ballard's existence in Child of God is spare, fragile. McCarthy's depiction of Lester's interior is even sparer - like bones bare of tissue and muscle - a skeleton of conjoined events void of excess flesh in both thought and description. Even the punctuation is spare.
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39 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Allen Kopp on April 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover
"Child of God" is the story of Lester Ballard, outcast, necrophiliac, and psychopath in the Tennessee mountains. I'm sure some people would find this subject matter repellent, but I think the book has just enough of a lyrical quality to keep it from being too distasteful. In the hands of a less talented writer, it could have degenerated into a silly Stephen King-type horror story. In about two hundred pages, Cormac McCarthy creates a powerful and vivid portrait of a twisted individual, one I don't think I'll ever forget. This book is a perfect companion piece to his earlier novel "Outer Dark." (Both of these books would make great movies.)
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