Saturday, May 7, 2016
Review: "Suttree" by Cormac McCarthy
I have never been as gung-ho about Cormac McCarthy as other literary minded Americans tend to be. While some find his dense, meandering stream of consciousness style a sign of staggering genius, I always found it dull, relentless and too much like something g meant for the college classroom and little else. But the one book of his that I was always curious about, the one that interested me the most, which is Suttree. For one, I think it is funnier and more accessible than the other books of his I have read, which strange, because it is also the longest and has the loosest plot. It switches time periods rather frequently, but it makes up for that with a really strong central character, interesting secondary characters, which there are a lot of, and strong theme of identity and autonomy that is both joyful and sad in equal measure. The book opens as our eponymous character, a voluntary vagrant living on a houseboat on the Tennessee River, watches authorities pull a body out of the water. It is a good introduction to Suttree, a man who does bad and does good, neither of which have any influence on the quality of his life. The real joy of this novel, both intimate and epic, is watching him interact with the people in this rather dirty yet poetic world of the damned. Whether it is with his group of drinking buddies at various bars around town, or with women, which never ends well for him, or with young men he takes under his wing, especially the wayward Harrogate, whose mischief hides a scary lack of culpability that eventually breaks Suttree’s heart. I take a bit of issue with the way McCarthy changes voices from narration and dialogue, giving complex thought processes to people who, for a lack of a better word, are not that self-aware. I feel it divides McCarthy from his characters and setting in a way it does not for writers like Larry Brown and Daniel Woodrell, putting himself above it all, and giving them a sense of grace out of mere pity. But that may just be me, and it no way hindered what I felt was a thoughtful book about one’s place in the world, and said world’s indifference to human desire.