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Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy

Outer Dark (original 1968; edition 1993)

by Cormac McCarthy

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1,281376,134 (3.91)78
Title:Outer Dark
Authors:Cormac McCarthy
Info:Vintage (1993), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library

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Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy (1968)

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This is taken from the blog for consistency:

Here we go again.

Three stars. (Sorry McCarthy fans.) In my opinion, it's a generous ranking for OUTER DARK.

UPDATE: I lied. Make that two stars. (i.e. it was okay)


I so want to love McCarthy, and I don't even know why. I have read a couple books by him I liked, but these last two? Meh. Double meh on OUTER DARK. At this point, CHILD OF GOD, SUTTREE, and OUTER DARK haven't held up in comparison with THE ROAD. I should probably read THE ROAD again, just to see how his writing changed between that story and these earlier works. I don't remember nitpicking over the style of it. I do recall that the boy was rather cryptic. "Yes." "Okay." I don't recall the father being verbose either. Those weren't chatty times however, considering the premise.

I think I'm beginning to get the sense of McCarthy, or more accurately, his style. Basically it's to use odd, rarely used words (that require a dictionary for most of us), then try as hard as possible to fling a multitude of them into a sentence. Pick the most taboo subject (OUTER DARK is about incest between a brother and sister, CHILD OF GOD was about necrophilia) and use it in a story. Make sure your characters are mostly miserable, yet sometimes funny. Make sure they say, "I got to get on," several times and have the other character interrupt and delay their departure. Again and again. Do it multiple times throughout the book. Do it in several books. Start most conversations off with "Hidy." (for those not sure, quaint way of saying "howdy.") I think what I'm saying is, his technique is repetitive and his characters come out sounding very much alike.

I have to hand it to him on one thing. He's a master at developing a scene via dialogue. In OUTER DARK, there's one where one of the main characters (Holme as he's called), is watching a handful of drovers lead a bunch of pigs to some distant place. One of them stops to have a conversation with Holme and then goes on. The pigs get a little crazy and next thing everyone knows, a good portion of them are careening off into a ravine. The man Holme spoke with also ends up going over the edge somehow. Holme goes up to the bunch and says, "what happened?" They don't know. Next, a preacher walks up. ("Hidy") And before long, the other men are blaming Holme for the death of their friend, eyeing him with suspicion because all the while, the preacher with his repeated "don't hang him," plants this very idea into their heads. Definitely skilled at this sort of thing.

I thought maybe I'd simply chosen the wrong books. I peeked at ALL THE PRETTY HORSES on Amazon and began reading the preview. I barely got past the first page. I flipped a few more. I saw "I better get on back." The other character continued the conversation. "I better get on." (again)

Yep, I'm through and through at the moment. I can't bring myself to buy another one. At this time, BLOOD MERIDIAN is the last McCarthy book in my TBR pile. It just might have to sit there a while. ( )
  DonnaEverhart | Oct 27, 2015 |
Well written and evocative. McCarthy has a gift for dialect that takes you into it but doesn't wear you out on it.

But oh, the bleak. Hopeless and brutal, the characters walk on through the story yet go nowhere. ( )
  tarshaan | Sep 22, 2015 |
One of McCarthy's earlier books (his second), it clearly exhibits the essential characteristics of his writing: minimalist and brutal, yet at the same time insightful and some of the most beautiful, expressive prose in the English language. I have yet to find an author who can put me right in a place as clearly and distinctly as McCarthy.

This is the story of Culla and Rinthy Holme (brother and sister) who have a baby. Telling Rinthy that the baby had died, Culla abandons the baby in the woods. When Rinthy discovers Culla lied, she sets out to find the child and the man she believes has taken it; Culla sets out to find Rinthy.

As tends to be characteristic of McCarthy's work, the story is bleak, populated by people kind and cruel, helpful and hostile, civilized and barbaric. Life is not easy in McCarthy's world.

While not as gruesome as Child of God, Outer Dark is unforgiving, and does not spare the reader from confrontations with pure evil.

As I continue to read McCarthy's works I sit in awe of his ability to combine brutality and beauty with the same words. ( )
  jpporter | Mar 9, 2015 |
8. Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy (1968, 262 page Kindle e-book, read Jan 27 - 31)

This is McCarthy's second novel, and wow, what a change. [[Kenneth Lincoln]] says this book lays the foundation of all McCarthy's future work. The atmosphere feels post-apocalyptic, with carnage, insanity, hopelessness and even characters that act like demons. But, this is pre-automobile eastern Tennessee. No date or cultural timing references are given, but critics constantly say the era is around the year 1900.

And yet, it is so compelling. It's a hard book to stop reading. When finished, late into the night, I couldn't put the book down and let it go. I went back and read the beginning again and then started looking up reviews and commentary online. For all the horrors, I found it a fun, addictive book. I just kept wondering about.

Culla and Rinthy Holme, brother and sister living in extreme poverty in an isolated structure practically in the wilderness, conceive a child in incest. The guilt, while never spoken, is a focal point. It sets their fate. This is Culla's dream the day before birth (page 4)

"There was a prophet standing in the square with arms upheld in exhortation to the beggared multitude gathered there. A delegation of human ruin who attended him with blind eyes upturned and puckered stumps and leprous sores. The sun hung on the cusp of eclipse and the prophet spoke to them. This hour the sun would darken and all these souls would be cured of their afflictions before it appeared again. And the dreamer himself was caught up among the supplicants and when they had been blessed and the sun began to blacken he did push forward and hold up his hand and call out. Me, he cried. Can I be cured? The prophet looked down as if surprised to see him there amidst such pariahs. The sun paused. He said: Yes, I think perhaps you will be cured. Then the sun buckled and dark fell like a shout. The last wirethin rim was crept away. They waited. Nothing moved. They waited a long time and it grew chill. Above them hung the stars of another season. There began a restlessness and a muttering. The sun did not return. It grew cold and more black and silent and some began to cry out and some despaired but the sun did not return. Now the dreamer grew fearful. Voices were being raised against him. He was caught up in the crowd and the stink of their rags filled his nostrils. They grew seething and more mutinous and he tried to hide among them but they knew him even in that pit of hopeless dark and fell upon him with howls of outrage."

Culla will, of course, not be cured of his sin. When the baby is born, he takes it and abandons it in the woods, then returns back to the baby and almost retracts (this happens in a reverie of incomprehensible and yet fascinating syntax and obscure vocabulary).

What plays out seems to be a condemnation of the pair to endless wandering. But there are curiosities and such hopeless darkness in the forms of poverty and violence. Culla will have something like the mark of Cain. He is always suspected of crimes he has nothing to do with, and finds himself running and running. And there are these three guys following him, acting like demons and massacring everyone he befriends. Rinthy chases after the baby. But, while her wanders are fruitless, she is always met with kindness and protected.

The book plays it's dark self out darkly. I haven't read Divine Comedy, but I wouldn't be surprised if the passage through purgatory and hell has some parallels here. But part of what makes this book work is the humanity of the characters. We come to like so many of these characters we meet so briefly. They charm even in the flaws and even as we know that what is coming to them is not good. And I haven't mentioned the tinker - the peddling salesman who pushes his wares on cart, hated by pretty much everyone he encounters and yet smiles his way along. He is another central curiosity, and he is the one who finds the baby.

It's a book that makes we wonder about what it is about religion that made McCarthy hate is so passionately and yet feel compelled to encounter it in such gory intimacy.

Recommended highly for those willing to wade into this kind of stuff. ( )
7 vote dchaikin | Feb 21, 2015 |
I enjoyed the book but it didn't "WOW" me. It didn't throw me into the world or give me any emotional turmoil over the characters. Overall it is nicely written but nothing special. The mystery wasn't very suspenseful. I felt disconnected from the characters. When an emotional event occurred, I didn't feel the appropriate pang of sadness or the ping of joy. The writing is done well and the descriptions are done beautifully but the story is lacking a connectivity that brings you close to the characters of the book.

The dark themes and characters ARE disturbing, shocking and chilling but because I felt disjointed from the main characters and the world, it didn't have as profound an effect that it should have had. McCarthy had a great idea, great writing and style but didn't execute the plot or the characters very well. If this is your first McCarthy book, be warned. ( )
  yougotamber | Aug 22, 2014 |
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The originality of Mr. McCarthy's novel is not in its theme or locale, both of which are impressively ancient. It is his style which compels admiration, a style compounded of Appalachian phrases as plain and as functional as an ax.
added by eereed | editNew York Times, Guy Davenport (Oct 29, 1968)
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They crested out on the bluff in the late afternoon sun with their shadows long on the sawgrass and burnt sedge, moving single file and slowly high above the river and with something of its own implacability, pausing and grouping for a moment and going on again strung out in silhouette against the sun and then dropping under the crest of the hill into a fold of blue shadow with light touching them about the head in spurious sanctity until they had gone on for such a time as saw the sun down altogether and they moved in shadow altogether which suited them very well.
She shook him awake into the quiet darkness.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679728732, Paperback)

Outer Dark is a novel at once fabular and starkly evocative, set is an unspecified place in Appalachia, sometime around the turn of the century.  A woman bears her brother's child, a boy; he leaves the baby in the woods and tells her he died of natural causes.  Discovering her brother's lie, she sets forth alone to find her son.  Both brother and sister wander separately through a countryside being scourged by three terrifying and elusive strangers, headlong toward an eerie, apocalyptic resolution.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:38 -0400)

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This stark novel is set in an unspecified place in Appalachia, sometime around the turn of the century. A woman bears her brother's child, a boy; he leaves the baby in the woods and tells her he died of natural causes. Discovering her brother's lie, she sets forth alone to find her son. Both brother and sister wander separately through a countryside being scourged by three terrifying and elusive strangers, headlong toward an eerie, apocalyptic resolution.… (more)

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