In a small, remote community in rural Tennessee in the years between the two world wars, John Wesley Rattner, a young boy, and Marion Sylder, an outlaw and bootlegger who, unbeknownst to either of them, has killed the boy's father enact a drama that seems born of the land itself.
The Orchard Keeper is maybe one of the lesser stories I
The characters are John Wesley Rattner, a young teenager living with his mother; Marion Sylder, a bootlegger who (it turns out) has killed Rattner's father - in self defense - although Rattner does not know this; and elderly Ather Ownby, Rattner's uncle, who lives alone with his old dog in a run-down cabin in what used to be an orchard. The interaction between the characters seems incidental to the story, and what becomes of each character is not in any obvious way connected to the other characters.
The story is disjointed, and probably intentionally so. McCarthy's sparse construction style leaves it up to the reader to determine what is going on, with the author providing only significant events as road signs on the twisting narrative. My take is that he has attempted to capture a pivotal period: the post-World-War-II era.
Ownby represents the past - defined by self-sufficiency and independence; an acceptance of the world as it is, and a willingness to function therein. Rattner represents the future - increasingly untethered to the past, seeking a way to pass from what was left of the pre-War world to the demands of the future. This makes Sylder something of a linchpin to the story, a man trying to bridge the past with the future; in the end, his attempts to adapt to the exigencies of the future are ensnared by the remnants of the past.
At least, that's my take on it. This book is redolent of the typical McCarthy writing style - scenes articulated in sparse but driving language that dares the reader to flow with the prose, and rewards the reader willing to do so with an unequaled experience.
It's not an easy book to read by any means, as I had to ask my wife several times what was happening or re-read sections to wrap my mind around it. And the plot certainly meanders, not coming to as sharp a point as his later works. It's a worthwhile read, but if you're wondering which McCarthy to start out on, this ain't it.
On the other hand, this man could always write sentences.
Bottom line is this was one of the least appealing works of fiction I have read in a long time. The author's prolix style is off putting and frankly makes it seems that he is trying too hard. His writing style
While the premise of the work and Southern Gothic style had potential, this fell entirely flat. Not recommended.
Both men adhere to ancient mountain customs, which are by definition ungoverned by the laws of the encroaching contemporary world. In contrast to them, the law enforcement officials who eventually apprehend Sylder, beat him, and committed him to a mental facility appear degenerate. John Wesley Rattner, a youngster who hunts and traps, who is befriended by the two men, and who matures in the novel, represents another important aspect of the book. Ironically, he is the dead man's son. Even though the ancient customs are out of date, he chooses to remain faithful to them.
This first novel shows signs of the novelist that McCarthy will become as he travels further west in his some of his subsequent novels. It is a great place to introduce yourself as a reader of one of our country's greatest novelists.
I've learned along the way that I can't read McCarthy, because his punctuation style pulls me out of the story constantly. I despise it. Which is likely a lot of the reason I didn't enjoy The Road.
So, audio it is.
I have to say that, while the first of McCarthy's twelve novels, released almost 60 years ago, is gorgeously written, I found the story rather thin and mostly underwhelming. It's okay, and it was an enjoyable read, but at the end of it, I was mostly left with a feeling of, is that it?
As a reader, I can see the talent in his words, and it's obvious that he had things to say, but hadn't quite hit the mark with this first release.
Let's see how the next one goes.