Have you ever felt that you are not a good person, a little dirty, a bit of a slob, or just had an impure thought? Just read this short novel from a modern master and you will soon feel positively angelic about your life. The central character, Lester Ballard, basically checks all the boxes for depravity: necrophilia, murder, rape and/or rape-ish tendencies, arson, compulsive lying, and animal cruelty – just to name a few that stand out on first reflection. By the end you’re searching for anything not evil that he might have done.
His is an evil stuck out of time. Aside from small contextual clues scattered throughout, one might wonder when this story takes place at all? Contemporary? Early 20th century? There are automobiles and carnivals, but somehow it all feels very medieval. Ballard, scraping his way through moldy caves like some creature from Middle Earth only adds to the confusion.
Weaved through all of this is McCarthy’s incredible language. Though the story may not be that complex, following Ballard’s heathenish rampage through the Tennessee countryside, the complete lack of redemption experienced by the main character is not a path usually explored in fiction. There really is nothing to salvage.