Perhaps I am broken, maybe deranged, hopefully it is nothing too serious. I worry because I must admit to liking Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God. In fact, I liked it so much that it was begun and finished in a day, which, with two small children, is no small feat.
Lester Ballad is introduced as a child of God. McCarthy’s character is a mess; uneducated, extreme Southern dialect and a penchant for corpses of the female variety. That’s right, Lester becomes a serial killer to collect and molest dead women.
Let me take a step back. McCarthy’s book twists all parts of life, creating a grotesque world that is not so far from our own as to be unbelievable. A trip to the blacksmith, sitting in the dump drinking whiskey, winning carnival prizes, all seem normal in this hick’s world. No job and ostracized from the beginning, it is just a matter of time before Lester manages to find a niche that takes him beyond the fringe of society into a place that is only understood and accepted by him. When he stumbles across a woman’s corpse, he “go on and done it,” takes advantage of her state by becoming intimate with her (it?), but finally, just to prove that repulsiveness can go a step further, takes the body home to save for further violation (intimacy?).
After loosing his first lover in a house fire, Lester makes an awkward attempt to seduce a live girl (“show me your titties”) that ends in rejections, so he shoots her then takes her body home. This success leads to further killings, but no more attempts to talk with a live woman. Not surprising when necrophilia is your aphrodisiac.
This book and all of its depravity really appeals to my “could someone really?” questions. Is there a bit of Lester in all of us? Though we are all humans, children of God so to speak, what depths of transgression are any of us capable of? Lester is a reminder of doing unto others what you would have them do to you and that our neighbours are worth getting to know, maybe even supporting in their moments of weakness.
I see McCarthy’s scenes of the grotesque as representing the slippery side of normalcy. Moving through the day to day is not a reason to stop reflecting on one’s actions. Without understanding and considering your actions, you move away from your reasons for doing the things you do and knowing why you do them. From there, a complacency to those things around you may develop.
What may appear normal to some may be grotesque to others. Normalcy is a relative state. The more people who share your state of being, the more normal you are. As Bahktin stated, the grotesque is used to analyze and find issues in, as well as poke fun at, the established, dominant society.
By existing on the fringe of society, Lester’s actions are not questioned as he is ostracized and excluded from any healthy interactions with others. Without anybody else to influence his decisions, Lester is left to his own devices to decide what is right and what is wrong. In Lester’s case this is incredibly problematic, as he is lacking his own moral compass to assist him in such decisions.
McCarthy holds the grotesque up for our consumption, to witness the degradation of a member of society, one who society failed from the beginning. By ignoring our weakest members, we witness, through Lester, the disaster that may befall them and how the weak link may bring horrible consequences to many because he or she was left out of the fold.