The orchard keeper

by Cormac McCarthy

Paper Book, 1993




New York : Vintage Books, 1993.


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.

Media reviews

Mr. McCarthy is expert in generating an emotional climate, in suggesting instead of in stating, in creating a long succession of brief, dramatic scenes described with flashing visual impact. He may neglect the motivation of some of his characters. He may leave some doubt as to what is going on now.
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But he does write with torrential power.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member donhazelwood
Cormac McCarthy just doesn't let you down. This is not as brutal, as depressing or as violent of some of his other work. However it is a really well told, beautifully told story. I think it just might be my favorite work of his now ...
LibraryThing member fuzzy_patters
McCarthy's writing is like going through a dream where everything is shrouded in a dense fog that slowly lifts to unvail each scene. He is a brilliant writer, and this is evident even from his first novel, The Orchard Keeper, about a young boy and his friendship with a man who runs whiskey in the
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1930s. The influence of Faulkner is obvious, yet McCarthy's tale is both true and original.
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LibraryThing member Wubsy
Having read The Road and Sutree before this, McCarthy's debut novel, I certainly saw motifs and descriptions that re-emerged in those later books. McCarthy is brilliant in rendering landscape, and although I find his characters difficult to grasp it doesn't really matter to me when the writing is
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this tight and the authors use of a word or phrase transforms the mundane or vicious so superbly. I highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member eclbates
This book could have used quotation marks, women who are relevant instead of simply present in the same way that furniture is, and a great deal less thesaurus.
LibraryThing member jpporter
I am a fan of Cormac McCarthy. His writing style is unlike that of most American authors: minimalist, articulate, clear and - at times - brutal. He has an incredible knack for putting the reader in the story, in the very places he describes.

The Orchard Keeper is maybe one of the lesser stories I
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have read by him. It focuses on the lives of three people representing three generations, their lives connected, although not necessarily of the same family. The story takes place in Tennessee, around 1950.

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.
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LibraryThing member gregorybrown
McCarthy's first published book, but his tendencies are already crystal clear: favoring descriptions of external action over internal psychology, using sharp words to describe nature and blighted landscapes, chronicling the collision of two ways of life. Some of these draw inspiration from earlier
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work—at the time of publication, this first book was derided as a Faulkner-knockoff—but the sum is totally his.

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.
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LibraryThing member yvonne.sevignykaiser
Read for Southern Literary Trail Book Group this was the Moderator Choice for January 2016.
LibraryThing member DanielSTJ
This was McCarthy's first novel. Although the prose was interesting, I didn't feel that the story had any overarching and lasting quality to it. The action scenes, especially the shootout, were very interesting-- but that is about it. Nevertheless, a good primer for McCarthy and his style.
LibraryThing member stillatim
I decided to read McCarthy in order, including the novels I hadn't got around to reading the first time, because I just kept re-reading Blood Meridian. Well, as others have noted, this one is more or less McCarthy juvenilia. It gives you much of what is best about his later work--the sheer density
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of nouns, mostly--but also a bunch of what is worst about 20th century American literature: the tiresome scene-setting ("Fartswogton was a small town about twenty miles outside Nashville..."), the haziness masquerading as profundity (see also: Robinson, Marilynne, Housekeeping, which is more or less this book but with women instead of men), and the simultaneous need for a plot (because there are no ideas, or formal innovations, or really form at all) and inability to provide one.

On the other hand, this man could always write sentences.
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LibraryThing member la2bkk
After reading his later novel "The Road", I thought I would give this early work a try.

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
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was often obscure and confusing - at several points during the novel I wondered what was actually transpiring.

While the premise of the work and Southern Gothic style had potential, this fell entirely flat. Not recommended.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Rereading McCarthy’s first novel, The Orchard Keeper, reminds me of the origins of his novels as he describes the mountain culture of East Tennessee. The story revolves around three characters: Uncle Arthur Ownby, an isolated woodsman, who lives beside a rotting apple orchard; John Wesley
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Rattner, a young mountain boy; and Marion Sylder, an outlaw and bootlegger. It begins as the young bootlegger Marion Sylder disposes of a man's body in an abandoned peach orchard, a place that serves as a metaphor for the culture's impending decline, after killing him out of self-defense. The body is discovered by the kindly guardian of the orchard, Arthur Ownby, who chooses not to report it. For seven years, he let it to rest in peace. The elderly man also values his personal solitude and tranquility, and when they are invaded by a government holding tank placed on a neighboring hill, he shoots his X at the tank.

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.
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LibraryThing member TobinElliott
I've had McCarthy's books all lined up in audio to be read since he released his last two books, earlier in the year. I just never got around to them, but with the passing of McCarthy, I figure it's time. I've only read two of his novels up to now, The Road, which I truly didn't enjoy, and No
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Country For Old Men, which I loved.

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.
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