Posted on | March 27, 2011 | 7 Comments
I loved The Road – in fact, it was one of my favourite books in 2008, and right after I finished it, I read No Country For Old Men, which I also enjoyed tremendously. So, I find it kind-of weird that I haven’t read anything by Cormac McCarthy for over two years. I decided to read this on a thirteen hour long flight, and the one thing I realised was, of all things in the world, this definitely isn’t a flight book!
The one vague memory I have of this book is, back in 2007-08, a teacher was facing charges for giving this book to a ninth grader to read. The parents objected to the violence, profanity and sexual content in the book. It does make me wonder though, how would I react had I read this book some ten years earlier? At twenty-five, I found this book disturbing and haunting, graphic and overtly vivid, powerful and thought-provoking. At fifteen – well, maybe I was extremely naive for my age, but I reckon I would have been scandalised beyond belief.
Lester Ballard is an outcast in a small village in Tennessee – a tragic antihero, Ballard can almost be considered senile.
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.
It’s the offhand “much like yourself” comment that grabbed me, mostly because it came across as though Ballard is the anti-thesis of most (if not all) of us. However, it also meant that I read most of the book, expecting and hoping the character would redeem himself, because, all and said and done, I couldn’t help but pity him. Ironically, his personality and character should have evoked hatred and disgust, but that’s the magic of McCarthy’s writing.
Ballard’s house is auctioned out, despite his protests, and he starts roaming the terrain, living in caves and shacks, with no friend to call his own, but a rifle. His existence regresses, as he moves from domicile to domicile, each slightly more beastly than its predecessor, and his actions are mindbogglingly unjustifiable. Necrophilia, buying clothes and underwear for the dead girls he drags and hides at his “home” and eventually resorting to killing couples and having sex with dead girls are just a small part of it. The book does get darker and more morbid, and as a reader, I was just left flabbergasted, as I struggled to figure out any psychological motivation behind these despicable deeds. An absent mother and a father who hanged himself are not really justification enough – or, are they?
People ignoring him or treating him like he didn’t exist or taking him for a ride are again not reasons enough – a fair few events from the past (which are re-iterated in the book) explain people’s attitudes to him, but the quick degeneration of his already abject character beggars disbelief.
McCarthy’s third book is provocative (in more ways than one), but beautifully written. The distant tone of the third person narrator who tells the story is coupled with accounts of Ballard from people who have known him from his childhood. The people relate tales of his lamentable way of life, and at each point, I thought that something would happen to make the ignominious Ballard come good.
He has this old cow to balk on him, couldn’t get her to do nothin. He pushed and pulled and beat on her till she’d wore him out. He went and borry’d Squire Helton’s tractor and went back over there and throwed a rope over the old cow’s head and took off on the tractor hard as he could go. When it took up the slack it like to of jerked her head plumb off. Broke her neck and killed her where she stood.
In a way I’ve come to expect from McCarthy (despite the inadvertent two year McCarthy hiatus) the missing punctuation and the dialogue just add to the wow-factor of a book that is difficult to put down, for despite its depravity, I just couldn’t avert my eyes, as I lost myself in the surreal twisted plot of this book.
Have you read any books by McCarthy? Which one would you recommend next? And, do you think his language (and missing punctuation) adds to the charm of his books, or would you prefer his books to be just a tad easier?