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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not too shabby to be McCarthy's first
THE ORCHARD KEEPER, Cormac McCarthy's first novel, explores the nature of new versus old ways of life. It's a novel on nature. It deals primarily with three men: John Wesley, a young man coming of age; Marion Sylder, a bootlegger; and Uncle Ather, a hilarious, elderly man who refuses to take any crap from anyone. While these three run into each other throughout the...
Published on February 4, 2004 by Faulknernut

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63 of 67 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great style, slow going
Having read McCarthy's last five novels I developed into a big fan. I don't know of anyone else with his mastery of the language and ability to write razor-sharp, spot-on colloquial dialogue. So I thought I'd give his first novel a try. The incredible descriptions of nature are there, in more or less full flower, and several characters are memorable. The problem for...
Published on June 21, 2006 by Poogy


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63 of 67 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great style, slow going, June 21, 2006
This review is from: The Orchard Keeper (Paperback)
Having read McCarthy's last five novels I developed into a big fan. I don't know of anyone else with his mastery of the language and ability to write razor-sharp, spot-on colloquial dialogue. So I thought I'd give his first novel a try. The incredible descriptions of nature are there, in more or less full flower, and several characters are memorable. The problem for me was that relatively little happens. I kept waiting, and waiting, and although he tossed in a little bit towards the end, in terms of plot it's like a 250-page short story. Don't get me wrong; I wasn't looking for a beach book or Tom Clancy, but in truth it's nice to have someone do something every once in a while beyond walking through the woods. So it's fascinating as a stylistic exercise, but less than compelling as entertainment. If you're hoping for something along the lines of All The Pretty Horses, you may be disappointed; much more disappointed if you're expecting anything as sparsely written and plot-driven as The Road or No Country For Old Men. If you love fabulous use of language for its own sake, you won't be.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not too shabby to be McCarthy's first, February 4, 2004
This review is from: The Orchard Keeper (Paperback)
THE ORCHARD KEEPER, Cormac McCarthy's first novel, explores the nature of new versus old ways of life. It's a novel on nature. It deals primarily with three men: John Wesley, a young man coming of age; Marion Sylder, a bootlegger; and Uncle Ather, a hilarious, elderly man who refuses to take any crap from anyone. While these three run into each other throughout the novel, they are also connected to each other in a way through which none of them are aware--through the death of Kenneth Rattner. McCarthy's novel appears to be more of a character analysis than a plot driven story. While a plot does exist, it is not incredibly strong nor prominent. It's more like a series of anecdotes. However, the character depth and symbolism found in the pages of this book are tremendously wonderful. It's definitely a book worth reading again in order to catch all of these symbols and meanings. I would recommend this book to people who enjoy analyzing works, not someone who is just looking for something pleasurable to read. It's definitely not like reading Harry Potter : ). For example, at the beginning of this work, the narrator jumps from person to person, telling part of each one's story with little or no signal of whom is being spoken of. You have to take your time to figure out who the narrator is talking about. This can be rather frustrating at first, so beware! However, if you can tolerate this writing style and don't expect much of a plot, the piece is rather enjoyable, filled with comic elements and brilliance.
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52 of 60 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing at times, frustrating at other times, March 13, 2000
By 
R. Mathes (Cos Cob, CT, U.S.A.) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Orchard Keeper (Paperback)
I am a big William Faulkner fan and after reading the great four (Absalom.., As I Lay Dying, Light In August, and The Sound...) tried All the Pretty Horses a few years ago. Everyone said it was great so like a good prisoner of the "you must read this syndrone", I started it. I found it incredibly beautiful in terms of prose style and language but after 100 or so pages I did not really care about the characters. I thought it was my fault and not McCarthy's so I left it and decided that I would reapproach it later on. It is now three years later and I figured I would read his first book before I started the now completed Border trilogy.
This is a tremendously artful and in many ways wonderful book. Nobody since Faulkner has as dense and intense a prose style. You must have an unabridged dictionary beside you to really get everything he gives you. The reason I write this review is for those who want a deep, meaningful book and are thinking of reading this like I was. If you are such a person and do not have alot of time on your hands, I would suggest going elsewhere for one reason only. Another Amazon reader talked about the plot of this novel as being extraordinarily inconsequential. I think that this is McCarthy's point. It is a story about the land and people that personify independance. It is about an age of rural Southern life that no longer exists. It is not supposed to tie it's points up in ribbons and to keep you passionately turning pages unless your there for the art of it (of which there is a considerable amount).
My frustration was that when I finished this, I got it and appreciated it but was not particularly moved in any way. I read the last three chapters again to see if I was an idiot or if this was just an erudite, muted text. I came out of it thinking that that's exactly what it was. If you haven't read the four big Faulkner's or All the Pretty Horses, start there, this is a book written by a master but it left me too lukewarm to give it more than three stars.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars McCarthy finds the beauty in desperation, April 28, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: The Orchard Keeper (Paperback)
In 1930s rural Tennessee, men from three generations play out their lives in ignorance of a secret that binds them together. John Wesley Rattner is a young boy aiming to make a living from trapping muskrats. Marion Sylder is the bootlegger who, years before, killed Rattner's itinerant father. Ather Ownby is the old man who alone knows where the body of Kenneth Rattner lies rotting to nothing.

McCarthy tells their story of `profound inconsequence' in language of exotic precision. They are bound together through their relationship with nature and the land which offers up little sustenance but imbues their lives of dispossessed independence with meaning. In his prose, McCarthy elevates the everyday to a poetic significance, with some of the richest descriptions of the unforgiving natural world to be found anywhere. A bird on the wing, a wind in the trees, a car on a mountain road: he handles each image with equal skill, so that we exist with them in that place and time.

McCarthy treads the fine line between pathos and bathos, walking with sure steps, so that we feel for his subject - men hunting, the animals they hunt, the landscape as part of which they exist - but we never feel sorry. His dialogue is sparse, but loaded, with a natural rhythm you may have thought lost to the world. McCarthy finds the beauty in desperation and depicts it unsentimentally. While his story is a guiltless one of violence and resignation in the face of material poverty, his subject is `all questions ever pressed upon humanity and beyond understanding'. Except McCarthy appears to understand them, and is able to explicate them.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Typical McCarthy - but that is a good thing, November 13, 2000
This review is from: The Orchard Keeper (Paperback)
Having read all of McCarthy's other books already, I came into this knowing what to expect as far a style and content. And I was not disappointed. McCarthy can better develop a character in two sentences than most authors can in two chapters. The vivid description of the mountains, the people, and their culture puts the reader right there in the story. These harsh, terse, and somehow always beautiful images will remain in my mind for a long, long time. I found this story a little more abstract than most of McCarthy's other works, yet I was able to see his message in the end. Required reading for any McCarthy fan.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Signs of future brilliance, August 18, 2004
By 
This review is from: The Orchard Keeper (Paperback)
Cormac McCarthy's debut novel "The Orchard Keeper" is pure Faulkner emulation, from the multiple narrative viewpoints to the impressionistic prose to the laconic, slack-jawed dialogue. This style appeals to me, as it should to all Faulkner fans, but there is a certain sacrifice of substance to achieve the effect McCarthy obviously desired. The small details, the picturesque scenes, the dramatic situations he conjures are the work of a master, but these feel like mere window dressing when the characters are plumbed for depth, only to find the string is barely wet.

The plot could be described in a way that would be immediately enticing to potential readers: A boy named John Wesley Rattner (a Methodist?) growing up in the mountains of eastern Tennessee during the Depression, an essentially good kid who enjoys fishing and trapping, is told by his pious mother that someday he will find and kill the man who murdered his father. One day he pulls a man out of a wrecked car in a creek; this turns out to be Marion Sylder, a bootlegger who, unbeknownst to Rattner, happens to be his father's murderer.

As Rattner and Sylder, each completely oblivious to the other's relationship to Rattner's father, begin a friendship, the novel traces a twisting story among various members of the community, giving a clear view of life in a rustic setting that is well served by McCarthy's style. Looming in the background is a wizened old man named Arthur Ownby whom everybody calls Uncle Ather and who is like a legendary figure of nature, the human soul of the mountains, living almost as a druidical hermit and resenting any intrusion into his privacy.

The elements are all in place, but while I was reading this novel I couldn't help but think of a similar but better one that came out around the same time, William H. Gass's "Omensetter's Luck," which likewise offers a complex story in a shady, enigmatic tone but more distinctive and original characterization. "The Orchard Keeper" falls short of its goal, but it is an admirable effort that portends the brilliance that McCarthy would manifest in "Blood Meridian," possibly the best American novel of the 1980s.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gestating Genius, September 19, 2001
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This review is from: The Orchard Keeper (Paperback)
This is not in the same league as McCarthy's later masterpieces. The prose is unnecessarily difficult. The writing is often murky, and it is difficult sometimes to tell exactly what is happening. But the story is original, and it is worth reading if you are a McCarthy fan. This is an early work, and as such it is a fascinating look at genius in its developmental stage.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great bar, great dog, great old man..., September 1, 1998
This review is from: The Orchard Keeper (Paperback)
Rich, biblical prose. Set in the South. The best bar in all literature, set in a Gap, leaning out over a gorge, swaying with the wild partiers in the storm...when the porch starts to give way.... Great old hound: I bet he beats Faulkner's. Great old man: stubborn as a mule, refusing to participate in anything he considers unworthy, unmanly, not right---give me liberty or give me death---it really doesn't go out of style, even though such an orientation might get you labeled as disturbed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Point of Contrast, May 7, 2009
This review is from: The Orchard Keeper (Paperback)
The Orchard Keeper is my third McCarthy book in the last two years. I've enjoyed all of them, probably for different reasons. I've read McCarthy's most recent, The Road, and now his first, The Orchard Keeper. The difference between the two books is astonishing. Both are excellent, but The Road is as stark as The Orchard Keeper is verbose. I commented that The Road was the perfect example of work economy. While I'm certain The Orchard Keeper reflects the same economy, it is filled with the adjectives, adverbs and descriptive prose that The Road lacks. I personally enjoyed The Road more than The Orchard Keeper. Because of that preference, I wanted to give The Orchard Keeper fewer 'stars,' but in the final analysis, it is as intense, maybe more so, and certainly as enjoyable as all other McCarthy offerings.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not For Speed-Readers, September 30, 2009
This review is from: The Orchard Keeper (Paperback)
This was McCarthy's first novel and already the signs of his talent were present. But, be warned, it isn't an easy novel to read and enjoy, despite its poetic beauty.

The novel is not so much about its three main characters as it is about time and place and the threat of change. Uncle Arthur Ownby, the old man; Marion Sylder, the bootlegger, and John Wesley Rattner, the boy, interact but--as McCarthy infers--their destiny is "myth, legend, dust" while the land, the place, endures.

Maybe I like the novel because it reminds me of people I knew and the place where I grew up, both of which have suffered the same consequence of time and change. It's not a novel for speed readers. It is one requiring attention, devotion to the beauty of words, particularly rare and unusual words, and willingness to accept the author's eccentricities as a different way of looking at things. It's not fast food for the brain but more a meal to be savored.
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The Orchard Keeper
The Orchard Keeper by Cormac McCarthy (Paperback - February 2, 1993)
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