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Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

Suttree (edition 1992)

by Cormac McCarthy

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1,835323,798 (4.22)1 / 209
Authors:Cormac McCarthy
Info:Vintage (1992), Paperback, 480 pages
Collections:Your library

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Suttree by Cormac McCarthy



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English (31)  Spanish (1)  All languages (32)
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28. Suttree by Cormac McCarthy (1979, 471 page trade paperback, read Mar 23 - May 7)

I have been dreading trying to review this. I just don't think I can capture it or do it justice. In very simple terms this is a fictionalized biography of McCarthy's life when living in a dingy houseboat in Knoxville, TN and interacting intimately with the lowest of low lives in the city. This is 1951 Knoxville. Cornelius Suttree (McCarthy) is 18, a divorced father just out of prison, and, having spurned his family, he's happily poor and independent. His meager income comes from fishing lines set on the Tennessee River, which nets him maybe $2 on a good day. But then a dime will get him a grilled cheese sandwich and coffee.

While timelines are skewed, many of the characters here were real and their violent deaths were real too. These are hermits who live under bridges, alcoholics, beggars, junkyard men, young men who ooze violence and camaraderie, going in and out of prison, prostitutes, social outcasts, especially the black and native Americans, and a black witch practicing voodoo with an assortment of gory implements. And Suttree wanders through this all, differentiated by his better education and more privileged upbringing, but welcomed in and nonjudgmental. In this world of hopeless outcasts, he encounters a striking continual rough sort of kindness. A type that happens to be striking throughout his fictional work, although it is never appreciated there.

It's the atmosphere that is so hard to capture. When the language gets out there, it sounds either like an apocalyptic description of the underside of urban life (especially the first several pages) or drug induced with vivid confused mythological hallucination. He can be very hard to follow. But mostly the story line is uncomplicated, it just has his unique stamp of using archaic, obscure, and technically specific words to capture the atmosphere more in words than in revelation, mixed with the lingo of the place and era.

What's lacking is any obvious fictional complexity. It's a very straightforward, dependent entirely on it's charm, as, say, Huck Fin is. Which makes wonder why it's raved about so much, called by some his best work. It's not. It's a one off. Different from everything else he has written. In a sense, it incomparable in its honest charm. His fiction tends to lay it on thick. Here, the same words and language sit aside passively as he experiences this and that, taking it day-to-day. Where his narrators always know more than you and therefore are in control, Suttree is riding along come things as they may.

So, what is the point of this. I mean other than that of all memoirs, which try to recapture times and places and people that are otherwise lost. I can't really answer that, but it seems clear that McCarthy feels a discomfort with the mixtures of technology and humanity. He seems worked up on the inhumanity of modern life, and then, in contraction, in the various chaff of real humanity that gets lost in this. It's maybe something that drives him and leads to his apocalyptic feeling fiction. ( )
5 vote dchaikin | Jun 13, 2015 |
Libro delle vacanze estive, mi ha causato piu' di uno scoramento e piu' di una gioia. L'avevo iniziato per riposarmi da Joyce, senza sapere che cascavo dalla padella alla brace.

Senza evidente trama, senza evidente notazione di dialogo, con haiku folgoranti frammezzi a deliri sognati, non si puo' dire sia stata una agevole lettura. Forse ci vorrebbe lo stesso tempo nel leggerlo quanto McCarthy ce ne ha messo nello scriverlo e sistemarlo.

Poi non credo lo abbia pensato: è cosi' preciso, cosi' dettagliato che penso molte cose non siano inventate, ma siano solo ricordi di un tempo vissuto. Una epica dello squallore e della miseria ignorante, con scene indimenticabili. Una tra tutte, l'uccisione del maiale da parte di Harrogate. Poi i due mesi nella foresta di Bud: altro che Angeli di Desolazione... ( )
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
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. ( )
1 vote 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 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (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.
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:03 -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)

(summary from another edition)

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