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Set in mountainous Sevier County, Tennessee, Child of God tells the story of Lester Ballard, a dispossessed, violent man whom the narrator describes as "a child of God much like yourself perhaps." Ballard's life is a disastrous attempt to exist outside the social order. Successively deprived of parents and homes and with few other ties, Ballard descends literally and figuratively to the level of a cave dweller as he falls deeper into crime and degradation.