When two separate literary acquaintances identified Child of God as both their most and simultaneously least favorite work by Cormac McCarthy, that was all the incentive I needed to shoot it to the top of my reading list. To say I was intrigued would be a gross understatement. How could a book be a most and least favorite? How could you both love and hate something so intensely at the same time? I was so curious.
Then I read it. And the answer is perfectly clear.
In terms of the writing itself, Child of God is as excellent as anything McCarthy has ever written. He is a genius and a master of language. He is, at once, spare and beautifully expressive. Beautifully descriptive. I have never seen anything like it. Anything even close to being like it. McCarthy is in a league all his own.
In terms of subject matter, I don’t know if I have ever read anything darker. And the way McCarthy can drop the most horrific images imaginable on you, out of nowhere, with no prelude, and then move immediately onto something completely different, never to return, adds to the eeriness and terror.
Is this a horror novel? No, not in terms of genre. Because “horror” by genre is fantastical and implausible. What makes some of McCarthy’s works, like this one, so terrifying is that they have the inherent ring of truth. Like McCarthy understands something fundamental about the depravity of mankind that the rest of us choose to ignore. But we recognize it when we see it. And it scares us.
So where do I come out? Yes, I think Child of God may well be both my most and least favorite McCarthy work to date. The writing is beautiful and moving. Even the dark and twisted and creepy parts are…exciting? Also beautiful? True?
I felt reading this kind of like I felt reading Nabokov’s Lolita. I liked it, but then felt guilty and disturbed about liking it, because what did liking it say about me? Is there something wrong with me? Am I secretly some kind weird, perverted freak? I don’t think so. I think I’m human, as are we all. Which McCarthy understands and explains to us. In this book particularly. Aren’t we all “children of God,” the best and the worst, with our base wants and (occasionally) higher aspirations, each capable of anything?
Word on the streets is that James Franco is hard at work adapting this book to film, pitching it first to the film festival circuit, and set for release this year. I have strong feelings about converting books to movies, which we have touched on here before. The movie rarely does the book justice, and Franco’s attempt here has me more concerned than ever. So little of what I love about McCarthy has anything to do with the visually perceivable story. It is the language, the rhythm. The movie without the language is just a cheap and superficial manifestation of story only, with all the truly great parts redacted. Or so I far. McCarthy has been converted to film before (All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men). The movies were fair, even good, as movies. But the books were better. Deeper. I fear something will be lost. With Children especially, the movie would seem to run the risk of highlighting the horror without any of the redeeming beauty. Hopefully I’m wrong (it’s not like I am so concerned for the artistic integrity of the book that I won’t watch the movie; let’s not get CRAZY).
Has anyone else read the book? What did you love/hate? What do you think about turning books into movies?
[For you diehard Dunces, this is not a brand new post, and you may recognize it. We had a Dunce Emergency here a few months back, and many of our posts were ruthlessly eaten by cyberspace. I was able to recover a few, and so over the next few weeks will be reposting not all, but some held nearest and dearest to the heart. Sorry for any inconvenience].