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Suttree Paperback – May 5, 1992
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“Suttree contains a humour that is Faulknerian in its gentle wryness, and a freakish imaginative flair reminiscent of Flannery O'Connor.” —The Times Literary Supplement (London)
“All of McCarthy’s books present the reviewer with the same welcome difficulty. They are so good that one can hardly say how good they really are. . . . Suttree may be his magnum opus. Its protagonist, Cornelius Suttree, has forsaken his prominent family to live in a dilapidated houseboat among the inhabitants of the demimonde along the banks of the Tennessee River. His associates are mostly criminals of one sort or another, and Suttree is, to say the least, estranged from what might be called normal society. But he is so involved with life (and it with him) that when in the end he takes his leave, the reader’s heart goes with him. Suttree is probably the funniest and most unbearably sad of McCarthy’s books . . . which seem to me unsurpassed in American literature.” —Stanley Booth
From the Hardcover edition.
From the Inside Flap
By the author of Blood Meridian and All the Pretty Horses, Suttree is the story of Cornelius Suttree, who has forsaken a life of privilege with his prominent family to live in a dilapidated houseboat on the Tennessee River near Knoxville. Remaining on the margins of the outcast community there--a brilliantly imagined collection of eccentrics, criminals, and squatters--he rises above the physical and human squalor with detachment, humor, and dignity.
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Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree is a book that is hard to pin down and figure because it is so much, and really hard to legitimately describe in few words. And Suttree has McCarthy’s identifiable signature and style stamped all over it, which may put some readers off.
Cornelius Suttree, the book’s central figure, has given up a life from his immediate family and lives as a fisherman in the slums of Knoxville. We are never really given much in the hows and whys of this separation, but there are points where we can infer and make our own speculations. The book is in one way a journey, both metaphorical and literal, a rambling series of episodes through Cornelius Suttree’s point of view. Suttree’s peers and allies are hopeless, derelict, and lonely, but there is a common bond and (dare I say) comradery amongst their group that contrasts sharply with the feeling of alienation. And, while a dreary tone pervades most of the book and exhibits much of the city’s slums and underbelly, there are points where the story and plot turns darkly comical.
In a larger sense, the book is a meditation on death, destruction, and the alienation of the individual amid the human experience. McCarthy’s book, as others have attested to, is quite dense, ponderous and verbose; however, it is equally dark, profane, bizarre, and disturbing. Along the way we meet miscreants, derelicts, criminals, grotesques, and degenerates of various types. Yet, somehow, wading through all this, McCarthy’s book does have some humor and does offer hope and redemption.
I felt that some of more interesting characters from the novel were Gene Harrogate (“country mouse”), Ab Jones (owner of the tavern), and Reese (another fisherman), all of whom Suttree develops friendships with. Harrogate, whom Suttree befriends in jail, is dumb as a box of rocks, and gets into trouble of all kinds through his stupid plans and decisions, but he simply is a fresh breath of air from the bleakness, a well-timed comic relief.
Many of the other characters and individuals are reminiscent of a Flannery O’Connor book in their grotesqueness. In some ways, McCarthy’s Suttree is like the drunk and vulgar cousin of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.
There aren’t many books that you could call sophisticated, poetic, bizarre, dream-like, profane, literary, trashy, symbolic, philosophical, humorous, and reflective all in the same breath, but somehow Suttree manages to be all that, and then some. It really is a book all its own.
Set along-side the putrid river, Suttree takes you to a time and place you'd probably not care to be a part of, but when observed from the comfort of your armchair, it's "country noir" at it's finest. Unforgettable characters from the terrifying to the hilarious. Side trips and diversions lest you ever start to get tunnel blindness, descriptive prose that is just unmatched.....you'll see every wart, smell every noxious gas, taste every bitter drop of shine, feel every punch.
A fantastic low-brow epic adventure, told by a master story teller. You won't regret reading this.