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The Orchard Keeper Paperback – February 2, 1993

3.8 out of 5 stars 91 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This first novel by McCarthy (whose All the Pretty Horses won the National Book Award) is set in a remote Tennessee community between the world wars.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From the Inside Flap

An American classic, The Orchard Keeper is the first novel by one of America's finest, most celebrated novelists. Set is a small, remote community in rural Tennessee in the years between the two world wars, it tells of 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. Together with Rattner's Uncle Ather, who belongs to a former age in his communion with nature and his stoic independence, they enact a drama that seems born of the land itself. All three are heroes of an intense and compelling celebration of values lost to time and industrialization.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 2, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679728724
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679728726
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,170 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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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Format: 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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Format: 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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Format: 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.
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