Suttree

by Cormac McCarthy

Paper Book, 1992

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Vintage Books, 1992

Description

Cornelius Suttree renounces the values held by his prominent family to live in a dilapidated houseboat among the depraved residents on the banks of the Tennessee River.

Media reviews

"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."

User reviews

LibraryThing member LouisBranning
Despite the well-deserved praise that Cormac McCarthy has earned with his string of 'Western' novels beginning with the epic "Blood Meridian" in 1985, for me it's still his 1979 novel "Suttree" that towers over them all, and the one book of his that's drawn me back to it time and again. I read it when it first came out in 1979, recall that I liked it, though I also remember being a bit puzzled at times by its theme and structure, but then I hadn't yet read "Ulysses" either, so I guess that set of parallels flew right over my head back then. I do remember there was a particularly rancid review of it in the local paper, and the great Shelby Foote publicly responded, scolding the poor(dense) critic in a fireball of a scathing letter to the editor that only made me promise myself that one day I'd read it again.

I picked it up again in the early 90s and was just totally mesmerized by it, had read Joyce by then too, easily catching the numerous and sundry references of course, and wound up just floored by McCarthy's language, his 'man talk', and the sense of spiritual striving I found laced throughout the entire story of Cornelius Suttree. At the time I thought it one of the two or three greatest novels I'd ever read.

I found it once more in May of this year, just like an old friend still waiting for me to catch up to it, and "Suttree" somehow worked its undeniable magic on me once again, but having become over the years a fairly seasoned reader, I think that only now have I finally come to fully appreciate this glorious American novel for all the right reasons, and yet again it just broke my heart to turn that last page.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
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.
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LibraryThing member papalaz
When I took Suttree by Cormac McCarthy down from the shelves recently it was immediately apparent that I had had this book for some considerable time and yet it remained unread: the spine was pristine; the cover foxed and; the price - 5.99 from Picador. Why still unread I wondered? It is widely regarded as an American great and I had clearly been impressed, at some stage (probably during 1979), to acquire a copy.

Well, the first few pages explained all. Suttree is one of those works, and they are mercifully rare though Oblomov, The Precipice and The Petty Demon recall themselves, that manages to repel me in the opening pages to the point where I close the book and yet intrigues me enough to keep it on the shelves rather than dispose of it - what I call a "maybe later - maybe one day" book. As I ploughed through those early pages again (and I remembered the viscid prose vividly) remembered attempts at this tome came back to me.

The blurb on the now aged cover had promised me Faulkner and Twain but the text seemed to offer me very little save repeated detailed and frankly tedious descriptions of the river - especially its smells - and the odd glimpse of one Cornelius Suttree, our hero-to-be who had little to commend him. But, like the river itself that is the central figure of this novel (shades of Finnegans Wake anyone), I ploughed on. Riverun slowly, very slowly, sticky prose passage follows sticky prose passage as the river runs more and more languorously. Like the mighty em eye double ess eye double ess eye double pee eye the prose slows as the plot, such as it is, widens. There are promises of freshwater pearls among the mud and the one certainty is the inexxorable nature of the river itself.

McCarthy takes Suttree and his readers away from the middle of the river into the rock pools and eddies, the slack water and the weed banks of life beside the river where flotsam and jetsam of humanity have washed up. Damaged and grubby as they are they provide added interest to the tale and at points, like the river itself, the narrative and the plot come into unexpected flood and one finds oneself rushed along for pages at a time until the pace slackens again and once more we drift along.

We drift along through the narrative as readers and Suttree drifts along through pools of minor human adventure until we all are washed up onto the wide and muddy delta at the mouth of the river and ultimately, into not being.

And so I reached the sea shore and left Cornelius Suttree as he washed out to eternity. Finally I had finished Suttree. It is lavishly written this novel, too lavishly perhaps, and the episodes feel not contrived but not contiguous. It is an honest book and it is an achievement. In the end I think I enjoyed it. At all events I think it is probably an important book and I now feel I may come back to it one day.

.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
The city is Knoxville, the river is the Tennessee, and the story is about Cornelius Suttree. Suttree is a fisherman who lives on and off the river. We meet him as he lays prone "With his jaw cradled in the crook of his arm" as he "watched idly surface phenomena, gouts of sewage faintly working, gray clots of nameless waste and yellow condoms roiling slowly out of the murk like some giant form of fluke or tapeworm."(p 7) This is the milieu of Suttree and he does not stray from it very far throughout his picaresque journey chronicled in Cormac McCarthy's fine novel. His city is made of a "Curious marble architecture, stele and obelisk and cross and little rainworn stones where names grow dim with years."(p 3) His world is "a world within the world . In these alien reaches these maugre sinks and interstitial wastes that the righteous see from carriage and car another life dreams."(p 4)

As the novel opens Suttree, who comes from a prominent family, has abandoned his wife and infant son and has chosen to live on a houseboat near McAnally Flats, among the drifters and derelicts of the town. He keeps himself alive by fishing in the filth of the Tennessee River, but his existence is apparently meaningless, given over to destructive drinking, fighting, and carousing. As the narrator explains in the introduction to the story,
“We are come to a world within the world. In these alien reaches, these maugre sinks and interstitial wastes that the righteous see from carriage and car another life dreams. Ill-shapen or black or deranged, fugitive of all order, strangers in everyland.”(p 4)
Suttree has been accepted as part of this other world. He shares bottles, stories, and jail cells with the “ruder forms” that inhabit the region. They recognize that Suttree is different, has had opportunities denied them, but they never question his decision to live among them. To them, he is simply “old Sut.”

The reader follows him through apparently random experiences. The book is thus constructed in episodic fashion and depends on the cumulative effect of these episodes to develop its structure and identify its theme. Some characters come and go, touching Suttree only for the moment. Others, however, form a constant in his life, forcing him to come out of his self-imposed isolation and renew, in however meager a fashion, his connections with humanity. The themes hold the book together as they recur from time to time. Most prominent among these is McCarthy's ability to use his Faulknerian prose to capture the essence of death. The book opens with a horrifying realistic scene of a suicide in the river - "as Suttree passed he noticed with a feeling he could not name that the dead man's watch was still running."(p 10) This reminder that 'life goes on' will be brought home again as Suttree passes through the "alien reaches" that he inhabits. In a later scene as he visits a cemetery he sees an old vault that nature as begun to dismantle. "Inside there is nothing. No bones, no dust. 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."(p 153)

Although the book is large and its contents rich and varied, several episodes do stand out as significant events in the sweep of Suttree’s life. While in prison for having taken part, unintentionally, in a robbery, Suttree meets Gene Harrogate, a foolish country boy who later follows Suttree back to Knoxville to become part of the marginal world of the outcasts. Although Suttree tries to avoid being involved with Harrogate, he often finds himself drawn into the boy’s irrational schemes, and on occasion has to rescue the boy. A couple of these scenes provide a broad sort of humor that I have not encountered in McCarthy's other novels. Other characters also place demands on Suttree’s humanity despite his best attempts to deny them, and he forms special relationships with a number of the doomed inhabitants of the region. Among them are Ab Jones, a giant black man who fights constantly with the police; an old ragpicker, whose wisdom and stoicism Suttree admires; the Indian named Michael, who offers Suttree a quiet and dignified friendship; and the pathetic catamite Leonard, who involves Suttree in a grotesque scheme to dispose of the decaying body of Leonard’s long-dead father. The longest episode in the book tells the story of a man named Reese and his bizarre family of shellfishermen who entice Suttree, despite his better judgment, away from Knoxville to the French Broad River with the promise of pearls and adventure.

This is a mighty epic in a modern sense and I recommend it to all readers who want to challenge their perspective through a visit to the "alien reaches" seldom seen from the comfort of their reading rooms.
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LibraryThing member ashleybessbrown
Changed my life. Enveloping, sweeping, gorgeous, disgusting, weird, much darkness but beauty too. I hope to go back sometime when I have a day or two uninterrupted. One of those rare books that I look back upon as a world unto itself which I entered for a brief time. It took me away. I couldn't stop but then, I am a Cormac McCarthy SUPERFAN 4-EVER.… (more)
LibraryThing member lriley
Set in Knoxville Tenn. in the early 1950's the Cornelius Suttree of the title is a somewhat alienated from society--young man living on a houseboat along a riverbank--his friends boozers, petty criminals and assorted riff raff--whores, transvestites, barroom brawlers--both black and white. It seems to me to be a kind of period piece snapshot of the South after the second World War--this novel following the pereginations of Suttree from the county workhouse to the riverboat--to the variety of self employed (bossless) occupations he takes on to the one night stands--the drunken orgies--savage winters--the often violent deaths of many of his friends. McCarthy's poetic prose brings to my mind not only Faulkner but Dos Passos and the Selby of Last exit to Brooklyn or of Ondaatje's In the skin of the lion. It is very gritty and might not be for all tastes but I found it to be excellent in just about every way.… (more)
LibraryThing member danlai
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?
Nothing.
Nothing?
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.
Oh?
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.
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LibraryThing member HHS-Staff
The title character is a grown-up Huck Finn, out of territory, and returned to southern mid-America--lto live in a ramshackle houseboat on the Tennessee River outside of Knoxville, to be exact. The Huck Finn echoes are reinforced by the unforgettable teenager Gene Harrowgate, one of the best comic inventions in recent American lit history. Indeed, McCarthy has crafted an epic where the participants are decidedly unromanticized no-future derelicts, and while the effect is often funny in a way you might never have imagined this author capable of being, it's just as often poetically and profoundly sad, as much as any novel I've ever read. A half-step away from the scintillating hell-fired prose of BLOOD MERIDIAN--kids, if you want a book that will build your vocabulary or else cause you "skullpangs," as McCarthy would put it, give this a try. Reviewed by:Phil OvereemLanguage Arts teacher… (more)
LibraryThing member Wubsy
This was a troubling and sometimes enthralling read. The lack of traditional plot did not bother me, as the marking out of the passing seasons propelled the story along. At times McCarthy's sentences and combinations of words are brilliant, and throughout this masks the dullness of the scenes that he describes. I disagreed with the blurb on the back of my edition, which said that Suttree rises above the squalor around him. I found him to be a hard and unlovable character for most of the book. For me, the young tearaway Harrogate was the character that provided the majority of humour and energy in the narrative, and found the sections dealing with his life the most enjoyable. For me, the ending was, despite the excellent writing, a little forced and convenient. This is a book worth reading just for the incredible use of words and images that fill almost every page. The descriptions of the Tennessee River in particular are astoundingly good in their complexity and depth.… (more)
LibraryThing member nog
This is only 1/5th of a review. That's how far I made it into this one. It was my second attempt and I really, really tried to stick with it, but 80 pages in with nothing really happening except a lot of drinking, vomiting, and sordid descriptions bored the hell out of me. The first 15 to 20 pages is sort of a Faulkneresque rendition of the setting, then it hunkers down into lowlife vernacular. Sorry, but I did not detect brilliance.… (more)
LibraryThing member Hagelstein
Published in 1979, Suttree is as dense and wordy as McCarthy's later works are spare. Called "a Knoxville Ulysses" by John Grammer, it's tied for 20th on Oxford American's list of Best Southern Novels of All Time. Cornelius Suttree has abandonded his family and previous life to live in poverty along the riverfront in his native Knoxville. He has a trusted group of friends that - like real friends - make an appearance, then don't show up again for a while. He also runs across a variety of characters living on the edges of the city - and society. Tragedy and hope comingle with people trying to get by on both sides of the law.… (more)
LibraryThing member jastbrown
This novel is wondrous! As someone who's been reading stories for well over half a century I feel qualified to say that this novel, stacked up against every other written, is unique! I think that if anyone else tried to write a book of this type using the verbiage present in Suttree, it would be laughable.. McCarthy makes it wondrous! I read the first two pages with my mouth hanging open, I'm sure. Then I re-read them a couple of times and closed the book. I knew that I had found a treasure and wanted to be sure that I savored it fully.

The story is about a man, Suttree, from a good family.. fallen from grace and living on a houseboat among the folks residing along the riverfront of Knoxville, Tennessee who count themselves fortunate if they are able to maintain a subsistence living fishing, thieving, whoring, gambling and the like. The ancient Greeks wrote stories like this.. but McCarthy does it better! This is a story filled with passages of pathos and humor and poignancy and horror. There are passages that I don't understand yet, but I intend to read this novel at least three or four more times before I'm done.

If I could only take two novels to that timeworn desert island.. this would be one of them and I don't have any idea what I would pick for the second.. indecision would probably leave me with just this one! And that would be just fine...
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LibraryThing member chrisv
McCarthy is a master craftsman. This is a slice of Southern Gothic told in an arcane biblical language (there were a lot of words I didn't know). He conjures up a Southern City (knoxville) as hell and describes its denizens with humour.
Never having read any Faulkner I can't be sure but I suspect it owes a lot to that writer.… (more)
LibraryThing member trav
I hope this doesn't get me kicked out of the Deep South group...
but this was the second time I picked up this book and the second time I put it down having made it no more than 100 pages into it.

I have always wanted to read this book and the "Deep South Review Challenge" gave me a renewed incentive. And after reading LouisBranning's eloquent review I REALLY wanted to read it.
But I just couldn't dig my heels in.

The long descriptives are well written, no doubt. Some are even poetic enough that you're tempted to read them aloud. But most are so long that they become distractions. There's only so much you can say about fog or darkness or streets, etc. There might be a hundred ways to describe a river, but you don't have to use fifty of them in one long sentence (bit of an exaggeration there).

But all this negativity could be my fault. I'm trying to read this book late at night after work and all that. So maybe I'll try and pick it up again once things slow down and I can better squeeze myself into the book's pace and place.
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LibraryThing member fuzzy_patters
While I didn't find this to be one of McCarthy's best novels, it was decent. McCarthy does a wonderful job of creating a very atmospheric mood to the novel, and you really get a feel for the desolation and hopelessness of the characters. I just didn't find it to have the payoff of a Blood Meridian.
LibraryThing member comfypants
I loved The Road and Blood Meridian, but this is like a completely different writer. I gave up 120 pages in. Too dense to be enjoyable. A story about misery and squalor just isn't worth this much effort.
LibraryThing member joesavage
If you can decipher this, you're a better man, okay person, than I am.
LibraryThing member williammilton
This is my favorite book of all time and I've read at least 6 or 7 hundred.
LibraryThing member lkernagh
This is my first McCarthy read and I have to say, that man is one gifted writer! His skill at capturing time and place through the written word is apparent. Reading this I almost felt as though I was back in 1950's Tennessee, McCarthy's attention to detail and choice of words/phrases perfected to convey this to the reader. His characters are colour, flamboyant real people.

The main character, Cornelius "Buddy" Suttree is a paradox we never really fully understand - a man raised in a well-to-do family that, for reasons unclear, he has turned his back on and has chosen instead to live among and befriend the thieves, derelicts, miscreants, gamblers, whores and the poorer struggling elements of Knoxville's McAnally district. These are folks he knows from having served time with them in the workhouses, from getting stink face, drop down drunk with and from living the river life among them.and from living the river life. Suttree connects with these people and returned to them time and again as Suttree makes new friends. Suttree's life is a cryptic one, even for the educated Suttree.

While the story is depressing in its strong portrayal of the daily scrabble for survival in what can only be described as an economic wasteland, McCarthy injects wry humour that for me, helped carry the story and made it easier to connect with the characters.

McCarthy takes the reader on an amazing journey with [Suttree]. The writing and imagery alone make this a book worth reading, and a good thing too as the plot was thin and meandering and the last 50 pages were a let down for me after having kept me completely engaged for most of the book. While I was able to see, smell and almost touch the landscape presented, emotionally there was no connection, almost as though McCarthy didn't want his readers to connect with Suttree on an emotional level. A book to be read slowly and savored.
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LibraryThing member jpporter
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.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member dldbizacct
Suttree. Wow. It took three attempts before the book clicked with me enough to finish. Even when it finally did click, reading it was slow going and, at times, almost painful. I had to look up definitions for at least one word/page, and often my dictionary didn't recognize the word, necessitating a google search. Most of the time I had no idea what was going on in the story.

All that said, I absolutely loved it. Cormac McCarthy is a mad-genius wordsmith. It was often hard to focus on the story because I was so distracted by his word choices. Generally that's a deal killer for me, but in this case, I was continually in awe.

I'm excited to have discovered McCarthy so late in his career. It's like discovering a no-longer-aired tv series that you can watch all at once without having to wait for new episodes or seasons. Sort of.
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LibraryThing member kcshankd
Re-read. Laugh out loud funny when not crushingly tragic. G-d d--n, Cornelius.
LibraryThing member DonnaEverhart
I am not quite sure what to make of this book.

In between layers of confusing prose, there are bits and pieces of brilliant writing. I suppose if you have the energy to keep a thesaurus or dictionary by your side to look up the meaning of all the words McCarthy uses, you'll do all right and maybe even love the story. Considering it has a rating of 4.2, some do love it.

Me? I did not love it. I don't like struggling to understand what an author is trying to say. When I read I want to be entertained and I usually read to relax. Often I felt frustrated more than anything, although there were moments when I laughed at the antics of one of the more lively characters, Gene Harrogate, a.k.a City Mouse or City Rat - it seemed interchangeable.

I tackled SUTTREE because I read CHILD OF GOD, and despite the need to get "used to" McCarthy's style of writing, and the subject matter, I loved CHILD. I suppose the first sentence of SUTTREE should have been a warning. Others have quoted it, but just in case you missed it:

"Dear friend now in the dusty clockless hours of the town when the streets lie black and steaming in the wake of the watertrucks and now when the drunk and the homeless have washed up in the lee of walls in alleys or abandoned lots and cats go forth highshouldered and lean in the grim perimeters about, now in these sootblacked brick or cobbled corridors where lightwire shadows make a gothic harp of cellar doors no soul shall walk save you."

So, I get it. He (Suttree) is walking the city streets alone, early morning. He sees a cat. He sees homeless people here and there. Fine. But, that gives you a good idea, as the first sentence in the Prologue, of just what you're in for if you decide to read on.

Let's move on to the first sentence of what we can consider Chapter One (no Chapters are identified) as the book begins:

"Peering down into the water where the morning sun fashioned wheels of light, coronets fanwise in which lay trapped each twig, each grain of sediment, long flakes and blade of light in the dusty water sliding away like optic strobes, where motes sifted and spun."

That begins the story of Cornelius Suttree, bum/alcoholic extraordinaire. From the back of the book we understand he's shunned his rich upbringing to live among the rabble rousers of Knoxville Tennessee, and ekes out a living running his little trot lines, making just enough selling carp and catfish to hear the jingle of coins in his pockets and keep from starving. If it hadn't been for this brief explanation of what the story was about, I think I'd have been more lost than him.

Aside from McCarthy's EXTENSIVE knowledge of words - some I've never laid eyes on, he also breaks rules a lesser writer like me must use. No quotations when people speak. (in an interview he said they weren't necessary. I beg to differ - at least in this book) Very little comma usage, etc. Ho boy.

He also has a tendency to take common, everyday words and run them together, so at first glance it makes you back up, only to realize it's just two basic words strung together. Some are in the quoted sentences above.

More examples:
ragestrangled
sealedbeam
churchclothes
graylooking

And on and on.

The book is filled with nicknames for the other characters, like Oceanfrog, Trippin Through The Dew, Gatemouth, Jabbo, J Bone, Bucket, Boneyard, to name a few.

There were parts where I felt physically ill at his descriptions of Suttree being sick from too much alcohol, being urinated on, and the illnesses he contracted, like typhoid fever.

I happily made it to the end. The book delivered on it's ability to confuse me right on up to the last page. Here is the last sentence - which, trust me, contains no spoiler:

"I have seen them in a dream, slaverous and wild and their eyes crazed with ravening for souls in this world. Fly them."

And there you have it. I guess this would be one of those times when you either love it or hate it. I can't say I hated it..., but I'm glad I've finished it.
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LibraryThing member peacox
Don't look for a moral to this story. McCarthy does a superb job of showing us life as it is, by turns heart-breaking, hilarious, and incomprehensible. This is not an easy read, but the effort is worth it.

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