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Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

Suttree (edition 1992)

by Cormac McCarthy

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Suttree by Cormac McCarthy



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English (29)  Spanish (1)  All languages (30)
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Supposing there be any soul to listen and you died tonight?
They’d listen to my death.
No final word?
Last words are only words.

I keep trying to think of things to say about this novel, about what it’s about and what it means, and I find myself so inadequately prepared for the task that I simply just want to drop random quotes here and let the words speak for themselves. I’m sure you would understand, McCarthy really is a poet. Not all people like poetry, of course. Some people are not suited for the lack of form it provides, the kind of fuck-all attitude poetry can have for rules. That’s fine. You’ll find that McCarthy also doesn’t care about rules though, and he’ll leave out punctuation and quotation marks as he wishes. Ignore the rules, their sacrifice serves an artistic purpose. You’ll get used to it.

Of what would you repent?
One thing. I spoke with bitterness about my life and I said that I would take my own part against the slander of oblivion and against the monstrous facelessness of it and that I would stand a stone in the very void where all would read my name. Of that vanity I recant all.

This is the sixth Cormac McCarthy book I’ve read, which may explain some of the reasons why I am a bit underwhelmed with it. The Crossing and All the Pretty Horses and The Road all punched me in the gut, but this book is lighter, more humorous, yet overall less cohesive. Cohesive is not what this book aims to be, so let’s not judge it on that, since this book aims to be episodic, not linear. But if you’ve come in after reading The Border Trilogy or one of his later novels, expect a shift in pace.

In fact, the overall impression the book gives you is of stagnation--not much seems to happen: characters move in and out of jail and thus in and out of the narrative, characters fight, drink, look for jobs, quit their jobs. It’s a lifestyle that Suttree, our main character, is suited for. By the start of the novel, he has abandoned another life and has chosen to live in a houseboat, where he fishes for a living. If you thought Huck Finn was boring, don’t read this book. If reading a book with little narrative momentum appeals to you, then you’ll do just fine.

God must have been watching over you. You very nearly died.
You would not believe what watches.
He is not a thing. Nothing ever stops moving.
Is that what you learned?
I learned that there is one Suttree and one Suttree only.

I don’t mean to undersell this book, because it really is very good, especially in comparison to any book that is not written by Cormac McCarthy. However, reading too much Cormac McCarthy can be like listening to a broken record, and you may as well just get out your Cormac McCarthy bingo board. Obvious but hard-hitting philosophical and thematic conversations with a tertiary character/wise old beggar/aged señora? Check! (This time it’s with a lamp, or his reflection in a lamp, I’m not sure.) Quick shifts from third person to first person? Check! Cold detailing of the environment? Check check! (Free space: the grotesque.) He’s a bit predictable, but that doesn’t make him bad. He’s good at what he does and there is no reason for him not to stick with it if the books he turns out are like this. Read a couple books of his and you can get a sense of his rhythm. It’s pretty neat and Biblical.

The reason why I think this particular book falls a little flat for me is that the book can be a bit over-descriptive at times. It’s slow reading, which is fine, but not all of it is as interesting as it could be, even if the sentences are pretty.

Life is fine and life is still, except it isn’t. Passing like the river under Suttree’s house is time. That is what this book is about--death and the passing of time, of loved ones, of places, of life. Everything flows by his house, every little thing.

The color of this life is water. ( )
  sighedtosleep | Sep 1, 2014 |
Gorgeous writing. No gals to speak of. If he's the heir to Faulkner, where are Faulkner's women? those marvelous, convoluted, turned in upon themselves damned orchids with vast consciousnesses of their own?

Can't have it all, I guess, the man writes according to the dictates of his own imagination. But it doesn't get me all the way there.

Still, I love sentences like: "A snarling clot of flies had already accrued out of the vapid air."

The bravery of it. He's like Humpty Dumpty, he forces the words to mean what he wants them to. And it works. ( )
  CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
There is not much you can say about Cormac McCarthy's work other than that he has the most unique and effective way of presenting reality of all contemporary authors. The most effective prose I've ever read, the most perfect prose painting of a backdrop for a novel is presented in the opening chapter of Suttree. The rest of the book follows suit, as we experience the poorer side of life on the wrong side of the tracks in 1950's Knoxville, Tennessee.

Suttree is a person who has rejected his family (or, perhaps more accurately, rejected the family when his father rejected him). There is a deep morality to the character, who lives his life as a fisherman living in a houseboat on the Tennessee River. The lives described in this book are hard, sometimes hard-bitten, and non-sympathetic. McCarthy does not dole out convenient or contrived characters - they are multi-layered, multi-faceted humans.

The book almost ends abruptly, confusedly; but then, so does life. ( )
  jpporter | Mar 30, 2014 |
McCarthy's writing is absolutely marvelous; however, the picture he paints with his words is very bleak. The work tells the story of Cornelius Suttree who gave up his regular more affluent life to live in a houseboat on the Tennessee River in Knoxville and hang out with some shady characters. The reader is never certain why he chose to do this. McCarthy does a great job in recreating Knoxville of the 1950s. There were references to people and places included that only Knoxvillians or those very familiar with the city will completely understand. This is a masterpiece of American literature and deserves to be read by a wide audience. There are many themes in the book that would lend itself to great discussions in university literature courses as well. ( )
  thornton37814 | Mar 29, 2014 |
McCarthy has the most remarkable command of the English language, and he uses it to the max in every sentence in this book. It is the story of a few rather brutal years in the life of Cornelius Suttree, a man of uncertain age, who has left behind a "normal" life for reasons he does not fully share with the reader, and now lives in a houseboat along the Tennessee River in the harsh mythic underworld of 1950's Knoxville. McCarthy's writing is monstrously beautiful, as in this passage:

"It snowed that night. Flakes softly blown in the cold blue lamplight. Snow lay in pale boas along the black treelimbs down Forest Avenue and the snow in the street bore bands of branch and twig, dark fissures that would not snow full...Snow falling on Knoxville, sifting down over McAnally, hiding the rents in the roofing, draping the sashwork, frosting the coalpiles in the crabbed dooryards. It has covered up the blood and dirt and claggy sleech in gutterways and laid white lattice on the sewer grates...In the yards a switchengine is working and the white light of the headlamp bores down the rows of iron gray warehouses in a livid phosphorous tunnel through which the snow falls innocently and unburnt."

As the snow covers the black and the frozen, the grim and the ugly, McCarthy's words nearly bury the realities of the world he is showing us in a softening shroud, but never hide it completely. By the end of this rather too long novel, the reader and Suttree have both had enough, and need to move on. Where Suttree might be going, what he might have gained from this episode in his life, is no clearer than how he got there in the first place. That, I think is the greatest failure of this novel.

I loved parts of Suttree, the breathtaking word craft, the brilliant descriptions, the dark humor and often grotesque characters reminiscent of Faulkner's best. (I mean, a country boy shot and jailed for humping watermelons? Pappy surely gave McCarthy a commendatory nod for that one.) But it went on too long, sank a little too deeply into the mire too often, and made me grateful for its ending at last. Thankfully, McCarthy does not entice the reader into emotional involvement with his characters. As clearly as they are drawn, they remain at a safe distance from the heart; only one episode came close to touching my sympathy button, and it did so in part because it reminded me of another scene in another novel which was actually heart-rending. (I'm referring to The Dollmaker, a book I feel I need to read again, especially in this year of the American Author in the 75-Book Challenge group.) I don't mean to imply that McCarthy doesn't care for his creations; he does, obviously, but he does it in a totally unsentimental, no-BS, practical fashion, perhaps in the manner of a no-nonsense priest who runs a homeless shelter, or William Devane's prickly psychiatrist, Dr. Dix, from the Jesse Stone movies.

Suttree is a masterpiece, there's no denying it. It would surely benefit from re-reading, but I won't do that, because it's too damned difficult to live with for that long. ( )
4 vote laytonwoman3rd | Mar 27, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
"Suttree" is a fat one, a book with rude, startling power and a flood of talk. Much of it takes place on the Tennessee River, and Cormac McCarthy, who has written "The Orchard Keeper" and other novels, gives us a sense of river life that reads like a doomed "Huckleberry Finn."
added by eereed | editNew York Times, Jerome Charyn (Feb 18, 1979)
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The author wishes to express his gratitude to The American Academy of Arts and Letters, The Rockefeller Foundation, and The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
First words
Dear friend now in the dusty clockless hours of the town when the streets lie black and steaming in the wake of he watertrucks and now when the drunk and the homeless have washed up in the lee of walls in alleys or abadoned lots and cats go forth highshouldered and lean in the grim perimeters about, now in these soothblacked brick or cobbled corridors where lightwire shadows make a gothic harp of cellar doors no soul shall walk save you.
They are not rooks in those obsidian winter trees, but stranger fowl, pale, lean and salamandrine birds that move by night unburnt through the moon's blue crucible.
How surely are the dead beyond death. Death is what the living carry with them. A state of dread, like some uncanny foretaste of a bitter memory. But the dead do not remember and nothingness is not a curse. Far from it.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679736328, Paperback)

By the author of Blood Meridian and All the Pretty Horses, Suttree is the story of Cornelius Suttree, who has forsaken a life of privilege with his prominent family to live in a dilapidated houseboat on the Tennessee River near Knoxville.  Remaining on the margins of the outcast community there--a brilliantly imagined collection of eccentrics, criminals, and squatters--he rises above the physical and human squalor with detachment, humor, and dignity.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:18:40 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The story or Cornelius Suttree, who has forsaken a life of privilege with his prominent family to live in a dilapidated houseboat on the Tennessee River near Knoxville. Remaining on the margins of the outcast community there - a brilliantly imagined collection of eccentrics, criminals, and squatters - he rises above the physical and human squalor with detachment, humor, and dignity.… (more)

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