I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Cormac McCarthy, from his works that Hollywood introduced me to (The Road and No Country For Old Men) to the ones I’ve discovered and revered on my own (Blood Meridian and Suttree). I’m well acquainted with McCarthy’s unflinching sense for realism in depicting the vices and follies of mankind, but this book really jumps straight into the dark heart of humanity without bothering to dwell on beauty or redemption.
The plot is fairly simple, and the sheer volume of reviews for this work that mention the desire to stop and take a shower after finishing it are intriguing to me. What is compelling to me is not that our main character Lester Ballard is a deviant, amoral, necrophiliac rapist and murderer. What is interesting is WHY he came to be that way.
With dead parents, few close relationships, and no real property or prospects on the horizon, Lester finds himself completely disconnected from society. All it takes is a gentle push, and a false accusation of rape, for what little respect he maintained for decent society to evaporate completely and turn him into an amoral monster.
It’s a dark, disconcerting message from the pen of McCarthy. He seems to be saying that the thin veneer of society and social connection is all that is restraining very ordinary men like Lester from regressing to beasts. Lester is not an incredible monster like Chigurh. He’s just a weak, two-legged animal like you and me.