I was unable to get past the violence of the book the first time I read it in 2017. The shock had subsided for this second reading in 2020. I was able to focus more on the writing, the story, and the impact. I enjoyed it much more this time than the first time.
Judge Holden has to be one of the most memorable and sadistic characters in any work of fiction. Cormac McCarthy even lets your memory go wild by not describing the worst things the Judge does in the book but by letting your imagination wander. The Judge’s god is war. Mercy thwarts that philosophy and must be rooted out. The kid in the story represents that mercy, albeit in a twisted way. But that kid must be eliminated according to the Judge.
There’s a famous quote in The Brother’s Karamazov by Dostoevsky –
“If God is dead, everything is permitted.”
To the Judge – if War is God, mercy is forbidden. It’s a disturbing and grotesque way to look at life, but this book provides a glimpse into its ramifications.