45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Step Outside
This book serves as a perfect introduction to McCarthy's greatest works, particularly Blood Meridian and Suttree. In reading this relatively short work, one gains a sense of what it is like to step into a McCarthy landscape. For reading his works is more like entering some preternatural world than following your typical plot and glimpsing into depths of an individual...
Published on November 5, 2003 by Daniel Myers
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wait, that's how it ends?
I was/am very intrigued with Cormac McCarthy's writing style and prose. Right from the beginning you get a sense that he knows his craft and he knows it well. His clipped, descriptive sentences add much more color than you would think could be added to such a desolate setting. For example, "Holme swallowed the leached and tasteless wad of meat, his eyeballs tilting like a...
Published on July 9, 2007 by Brian Hawkinson
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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Step Outside,
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This book serves as a perfect introduction to McCarthy's greatest works, particularly Blood Meridian and Suttree. In reading this relatively short work, one gains a sense of what it is like to step into a McCarthy landscape. For reading his works is more like entering some preternatural world than following your typical plot and glimpsing into depths of an individual character. Indeed, it is more like walking straight into some sort of warped medieval landscape, as a picture by Bosch or Breughel, than reading a narrative or following a plot line. One gradually finds one's self engulfed in a visionary realm with tentacles only thinly attached to a "realistic" one. And, as indicated by the title, this world is unremittingly bleak. And this work, like all McCarthy's best, leaves us pondering anew the same question: Why, for what purpose, is man thrown into this nightmare of a world? Or, as McCarthy puts it here, "He wondered where the blind man was going and did he know how the road ended. Someone should tell a blind man before setting him out that way."
53 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wellcrafted consistent lyrical trek thru a Hell of sorts,
By A Customer
Cormac McCarthy shows himself decisively to be the author who later develops into the eminent American maestro of the mysterious metaphor in this early work Outer Dark. A writer known more for his ingenuity as a
wordsmith and perfection of metaphor than for complicated plots or rich characterization, McCarthy has crafted this early novel around a simple premise--simple but no less eerie for its simplicity. The story follows an orphaned brother and sister aged around 20 years who spawn a child between them which the brother steals and leaves for dead in the nearby Appalachian forest--telling his sister that the baby died. A traveling salesman finds the child in the forest and takes the baby with him. The sister catches her brother in his lie and sets out across the surrounding towns and countryside in search of the baby for the next year or so. The brother likewise sets out in search of work and his sister. Their brief but spooky adventures in search of the baby and each
other comprise the remainder of the book. By virtue of his craft, McCarthy slowly reveals the world through which the siblings search to be the very
landscape of a sort of living Hell dominated by horrible luck and a sub-Miltonic evil trinity. Readers who enjoyed Blood Meridian will not be let down; will perhaps even be more impressed by parts. This book actually contains a 5 page passage that is arguably richer than the best of Blood Meridian. Describing the brother running from the forest after leaving his child for
dead, McCarthy writes, "He did not come upon the river but upon the creek again. Or another creek. He followed it down, in full flight now, the trees beginning to close him in, malign and baleful shapes that reared like
enormous androids provoked at the alien insubstantiality of this flesh colliding among them."
80 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Western redone as gothic horror,
Cannibalism, incest, violence, shadows and morbidity are not images usually associated with the western genre. Cormac McCarthy combines these gothic horror elements with the "Tale of the Wandering Jew" to craft a novel that, while certainly a genre western in the classic sense (it is filled with outlaws, pioneers, gunfights, horses, etc.) manages to also defy catergorization.
This is not a novel for all readers. McCarthy is an aquired taste. The hope through regeneration and purgation is present but certainly takes a close reading to discover. I am not a fan of dark literature per se, but McCarthy posseses such a unique linguistic style, that he indeed weaves a magic tapestry around his narratives and seduces the reader. He also manages to breathe new life into a classic American genre by throwing a new spin at his audience.
Like the rest of McCarthy's novels, "Outer Dark" is on one hand extremely cinematic with its rich and dense imagery and yet completely unfilmable. In fact Jim Jarmasch's excellent but aquired taste "Dead Man" contains many scenes that could have been taken directly from "Outer Dark".
As with all westerns, McCarthy devotes a large portion of his storytelling to creating a vivid landscape. The natural world according to McCarthy is wide, expansive and filled with great dread and danger. The Wilderness is not a place for the meek- they do not get to inherit the earth according to McCarthy. His view is extremely Old Testement in that regard. The wild expanses of the undeveloped country is, in of itself a scourge angel where wickedness is to be purged.
"Outer Dark" is at times a difficult read. For those brave souls willing to take a chance on a risky work of art, I whole heartedly reccomend this unique novel.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and terrifying.,
Don't be put off by mediocre Matt Damon movie adaptations, Cormac McCarthy is one of America's greatest living authors, and without a doubt the most worthy successor to William Faulkner, his greatest influence. I prefer his earlier Appalachian novels (The Orchard Keeper, Child of God, and this one). Later in his career he moved out west with The Border Trilogy (All The Pretty Horses, Cities of the Plain, and The Crossing). Whichever you prefer, there is no doubt that McCarthy's beautiful, streaming prose masterfully depicts the horrors of the south and the west, and the evil in the hearts of men. In this novel, a young girl is impregnated by her brother, who then attempts to kidnap the baby, taking it out to the woods to dispose of it, all in the first few chapters. What follows are two epic journeys - those of each of the siblings, as they attempt to find the lost child. We follow them through their respective journeys, encountering both the mercy and evil that lie in the heart of man, ending in a bloody and unspeakable climax that will haunt you for days after finishing.
This is one of McCarthy's first novels, and as good as this novel is, he has gone on to hone his talent even further, becoming one of the true masters of 20th century American fiction. I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of Faulkner, and any of the authors he has influenced over the decades. Like his influences, McCarthy is not easy reading by any means, but also like them, reading him is a substantially rewarding experience.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Outer Dark Relected from Within,
Cormac McCarthy excels as an author in his ability to evoke the violent terror and primal corruption that lies just beneath the banal facade of common human experience. Outer Dark is at once ominous, brooding and powerful. It has all the features of the finest and most perverse Greek tragedies, combined with the tacit nihilism of the postmodern condition, in which the concepts of original sin, retribution and guilt have their own redoubled semantic.The story itself has been manifested in varying forms in written literature for ages and finds a correlate in ancient Greek, Biblical and Medieval mythico-religious themes.
It seems also that Outer Dark bears some connection to the literary tradition of Southern Gothic and has more than a slight affinity to the work of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor. In addition this book would be especially appreciated by fans of McCarthy's earlier works such as Child of God, Suttree, The Orchard Keeper and his violent historigraphic masterpiece Blood Meridian.
Both in substance and form this book is a beautiful, yet disturbing literary accomplishment, one that succeeds in merging the depravity and horror of human emotions with the elegance and sublimity of humanity's highest artistic achievement.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Conveying without saying,
What most impressed me about this novel was that so many things could be conveyed without even being described. In many scenes, one somehow knows what has happened even though McCarthy has never actually told us so. There are some brilliant examples of communication through suggestion. Here is one example: Near the beginning of the novel we find some horrific descriptions of violence and gore. This primes us to expect more. But for the rest of the novel, the violence and gore are never really stated but only hinted. But after this priming, hints are even better than statements. The hints make the imagination run wild, and turn out to be even more effective than explicit statements. After the early explicit scenes, we are ready to jump or cry at any hint. And I do mean "cry". This is not simply a horror story. There is something heartwrenching about it. I also want to point out that some of the reviewers are mistaken in calling this novel a "western". The way the characters speak is clearly Appalachian.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wait, that's how it ends?,
I was/am very intrigued with Cormac McCarthy's writing style and prose. Right from the beginning you get a sense that he knows his craft and he knows it well. His clipped, descriptive sentences add much more color than you would think could be added to such a desolate setting. For example, "Holme swallowed the leached and tasteless wad of meat, his eyeballs tilting like a toad's with the effort." I was drawn into this book from the beginning.
At first there seemed a general theme to Outer Dark. Many abandoned buildings in a desolate and poor countryside and yet every person they met offered them food or a place to stay. The exception being Culla Holme, who invariably seemed to be chased by bad circumstances for what he did with his incestuous child. A kind of retribution was being enacted on him.
But this is where it got confusing. All of a sudden there would be a quick excerpt or scene of violence and death. You don't know why it happened or who did it, but it always happened just before or after a Culla chapter. So conclusions are drawn. We soon find out that it isn't him, that it is the villains of the novel. Culla himself runs into them several times as part of the retribution enacted for the incestuous relationship coupled with the attempted murder of his newborn son. Then the novel goes haywire and turns macabre and horror like, leaving you finishing the book not understanding anything, not understanding what the book was about. Perhaps I missed something.
I am definitely intrigued with McCarthy's style of writing and I will definitely read some of his other books. And I think I would find that this is a book more for the diehard McCarthy fans than it is for someone like myself who has never read any of his other novels. I would recommend McCarthy, but not necessarily this book.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars outer dark and inner dark, evil remains the same,
McCarthy's novels are certainly not for everyone, for they are dark pessimistic interpretations of the human condition, often showing mankind at our worst. Outer Dark is exceptionally well written. The journeys of a sister and brother has many characteristics of dark folk tales and Greek drama on cosmological justice, or the lack there of. The tale evokes Greek Tragedy and Old Testiment Judgements. The story is mythlike and makes reference to concepts around Original Sin and Redemption.
Because the characters are early 1900 Appalachian, there is of course a comparison and contrast to William Faulkner's work. McCarthy, like Faulkner, is a master of the English language and complex sentence structures. But McCarthy is more straight-forward and less ambiguous in his sentence structure and narrative style. McCarthy is also a master at identification of out of style, low frequency words, which he resurrects in his writing. McCarthy, like many great writers, invents words also. However he invents words with such strong reference to English language etiology that they are immediately recognizable and useful. Like Faulkner before him, McCarthy explores dark themes of human deprivation, but McCarthy actually takes these themes further than Faulkner since he explores ancient themes from the Greeks regarding fate and destiny and inescapability from the dark human condition.
At the core of many novels by McCarthy is a killing machine, a dark and mysterious man who kills his fellow humans as would an earthquake or hurricane or forest fire or any other force of nature. Some critics have linked these serial killer forces of nature to Achilles in the Iliad, one of the earliest serial killer anti-heroes from literature. For Achilles, the son of a water goddess is a marvel of masculine aggression and adroit, athletic slaughter. When such a serial killer engages in murder, he has no more emotion than a tidal wave. He expects no justice or injustice for killing is like breathing. It is a personal tragedy like being killed by a falling tree or drowning in a pond. For there is no justice against the tree or the pond and McCarthy sees his murderers as beyond earthy human justice or any cosmological justice from a absent and unconcerned God. Because this natural killer is in total touch with the worst aggressive aspects of human nature, they frequently can see the darkest instincts within their fellow men.
Outer Dark however also has a familiar narrative structure to the dark folk tales of Eastern Europe where children are eaten by wolves. For in this story, an 18 year old girl and her slightly older brother commit incest and the brother hides the baby in the forest telling his sister that the baby died, a story she doesn't believe for a minute. He leaves home on a quest away from his sin and deed. She leaves home on a quest for the child which has been taken by a Rumplestilkin tinker that uses terminology that evokes the anti-semitic descriptions of Jews in the Middle Ages.. Simultaneous to their parallel paths through darkness, three murderers stalk the land and seem oddly related to bringing rough reconciliation or completion to the tragedy.
A Jungian interpretation of the novel is really in order also for the boy is a thief and liar in a world of thieves and liars. The girl seeks her child for 8 months and never stops lactating. This odd feature to this story may reflect the miraculous in the lives of Catholic Saints for the girl believed that as long as her breasts weep milk, that the child is still somewhere alive in the world. The boy and girl may represent two sides of the human personality and each has a path to follow toward reconciliation with the other. Underneath much of the horror is a redemption story for the innocent child he denies is the product of his sin. However the redemption is extremely dark in this tale of horror.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Loved It But Not Sure Why,
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book (if "enjoyed" is the right word) but I have no idea what it's about. Like all the other McCarthy books I've read, it is compelling from word one. No one today shapes the English language like McCarthy. His every word is poetry. His ear for dialog and dialect is staggering. His description of everything, I mean EVERYTHING, is unerring, uncannily so. His ability to set a (mostly) dark and somber mood is (literally) scary. But I don't know what the book was about. I guess it was about a lot of things. No matter to me: I just enjoyed reading it. I enjoyed the suspense, the symbolism, the gothic emotion, the rawness of it. I've read several McCarthy books. I was lukewarm about the Border Trilogy, but hooked after "The Road", "No Country..." and others. Wonderful, masterful book. But I still don't know what it was about....
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book for McCarthy fans,
"Outer Dark" is the story of a brother and sister and their child. The child is born in a desperate cabin someplace in the Appalachian Mountains. The brother, Culla Holme, takes the newborn while the mother/sister sleeps and sets the child in the night woods. The child is found by an iterant tinker. The sister/mother, Rinthy Holme, awakes. She confronts her brother, they argue, and eventually both set out separately on the road--the sister to find the child and the brother for no reason other than perhaps desperation.
Once they are on the road, the book follows a classic journey narrative. The landscape is dark and strange. The people they meet even more so. A few of the chapters are perfectly written. There is a chapter about halfway through the book where Culla meets a snake hunter. Now there is nothing particularly important in this chapter as it relates to the rest of the novel--no important aspects of character revealed, not important action or theme, it is just a beautiful handful of pages that form a perfect circle. The dialogue is brilliant. The snake hunter talks about his well, his wife, his hounds, the neighbor with whom he still carries a feud despite the fact that the neighbor has been dead nearly a decade. The chapter is a great example of Faulkner's observation, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past." This is true among certain communities in the South, but I also think it belongs to a broader class and generation of people; people who frame their individual and collective lives as narratives to live, relive, and pass along. And I suspect that the reason this chapter stands out for me is that unlike other chapters that rely on strangeness and cruelty for much of their emotional tension, this small chapter is, at least by McCarthy standards, benign. There are no corpses hanging from trees, no drooling mutes or eyeless crones or murdered infants. And I believe that these moments, moments that lean on something other than the weird or cruel, are McCarthy's best. And it is unfortunate that they are often overlooked for the sheer spectacle of his violence.
There are several things I found problematic in this novel. Firstly, there is a triad of evil men prowling the land. They are composite characters that we find in other McCarthy novels. There is the sentient evildoer, the learned man who pontificates the meaning of mankind. There is the cadre mutants, misshapen and nameless--in this case, one man is actually nameless. McCarthy never tells us where they come from or what motivates them. They are just there, a part of the landscape perhaps--a force birthed by the landscape. I don't know. I can only speculate and with very little evidence from the text. Now perhaps they are a reflection of real life, the evil we hear about on the evening news or witness through history. But so what, as I've heard time and again in workshop, life does not good fiction make. Perhaps my problem is that I do not necessarily believe in evil, but rather in motivation--in that people can be motivated to do some awful things. And good fiction is in that motivation. And it does not have to be much. I found the motivations toward evil in Blood Meridian convincing--racism, imperialism, greed, desperation, ceremony. But evil simply for evil's sake, or even as a reflection of some aspect of the human psyche, collective or individual, does not work and detracts from the overall effect of the work.
Then there is the issue of coincidence--or perhaps it is meant to be fate. Either way, the key events of the novel depend upon happenstance that felt incredible and I must say a bit contrived. The first time that Culla Holme meets the triad of evil, he is washed from a ferry on a flooded river. He stumbles into their camp to warm by the fire. And I am trying to figure out why this meeting feels so forced. I suspect that it has something to do with the needless drama of the ferry scene, a drama with no narrative significance other than to put Culla within view of the triad's fire. It would have felt more credible if no great event or drama preceded the meeting, or if some event of greater significance, an event tied inextricably to the progression of the novel, preceded their meeting. As it stands, the action packed ferry scene serves no purpose other than to position the characters.
And then it happens again. McCarthy creates an interesting, high drama scene involving a hog drive, thousands of animals driven through the mountains. One of the hog drivers is forced off a bluff by stampeding pigs. He dies and the blame is assigned to Culla. It is an interesting scene, the dialogue is sharp and the characters of the itinerant preacher and the hog drivers are vivid. They plan to hang Culla but don't have a rope. They march him back to camp for the proper hanging equipment--as one of the characters explains, it is the Christian thing to do. Culla jumps from the bluffs and into the river to escape. And guess where the next chapter finds him? Another river drama, another visit to the evildoer's camp.
A terrible act of violence beings the book to a close. It is turely awful, but it does complete the novel. And were it not for the questions raised by the unmotivated evil, and the coincidences that brought the characters together, the novel would be nearly perfect.
I can't help but wonder how McCarthy could solve the problems of the novel, though I suspect, given his other work from this period, he preferred to leave certain questions unanswered. And these things I label problems are in fact intentional. In any event, I believe an answer resides somewhere in that perfect chapter in the middle of the novel, the chapter with the snake hunter. The thing that makes this chapter work is what Charles Baxter calls rhyming action: "When narratives move in reverse--when they come dramatically or imagistically to a point that is similar to the one they already seemingly passed." I sense that is perhaps something of the intention in this work--much of it doubles back upon itself. One of the reasons the murder is so disturbing is that it had already been committed at the beginning of the work, when Culla left the newborn, naked, in the night woods. But the dramatic events, the river dramas, that bring about the final rhyming murder, ring dissonant with all that came previously. Even though they are repetitive, they stand out from the rest of the work and seem to develop in their own direction--a misplaced rhyme--until the writer pushes Culla into the river and gets him drifting in the right direction.
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Outer Dark (Vintage International) by Cormac McCarthy