©1979 Cormac McCarthy (P)2012 Recorded Books
“Suttree contains a humor that is Faulknerian … and a freakish imaginative flair reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor.” (Times Literary Supplement, London)
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
In another time and place Cornelius "Buddy" Suttree might have been a fisher of men, but in 1951 Knoxville he's a fisher of carp and catfish caught in the cloacal Tennessee River, into which the city dwellers dump sewage, condoms, corpses, and garbage. Suttree, living alone on a ramshackle houseboat, has attended university and is intelligent, generous, and loyal, and yet he wants nothing to do with his mainstream family and especially with his elite father and prefers to live among social outcasts--alcoholic derelicts, homeless old timers, blind beggars, colorful catamites, profane prostitutes, smiling brawlers, crazed prophets, and even a moonlight melonmounter--all without any regard to skin color, being on good terms with everyone from "white trash" to African and Native Americans, all of whom possess an appeal, integrity, and savor missing from "normal" white society. Apart from his family, the only people who repulse him are policemen. Suttree often passively accompanies his rowdy friends on drunken binges that end with vomit and blackout if not with violence and robbery. More than once he thinks something like, "My life is ghastly," but he seems unable to do anything constructive with it.
Despite that character sketch, Cormac McCarthy's novel Suttree (1979) is not only bleak and unpleasant; it is also beautiful, vibrant, and meaningful. It is also very funny, unlike The Road. Suttree's friends say and do hilarious (off-color) things, and McCarthy's writing is often wickedly playful. More, his writing pulses with a terse, knotty, sensual, and biblical poetry. His diction ranges from the scientific to the scatological and from the slangy to the apocalyptic, his similes and metaphors are striking and original, his ear for dialogue is acute and comical, and his grotesque characters are compelling. The story, three years of Suttree's life on or near the river, mostly in Knoxville, is episodic, unlike No Country for Old Men. While the majority of the narrative is told from Suttree's point of view, an amusing minority is told from that of his foil, the 18-year-old Gene Harrogate, the "pervert of a botanical bent," "the moonlight melonfancier," the Country Mouse who becomes the City Rat, the amoral and innocent creator of cracked get-rich-quick schemes whom Suttree meets in the prison workhouse.
Suttree resembles Huckleberry Finn, in its southern river setting and outsider protagonist. It also resembles Faulkner, in its American gothic, decayed south and fallen family themes and rich language. And it resembles Ulysses, in celebrating and lamenting a city in all its sordid and vibrant qualities in a style intoxicated with language. But Suttree is very McCarthy in its vernacular poetry, its range in focus from insect to universe, and its themes about identity, place, love, life, and death. I chuckled in appreciation at his "unaccountable" phrases and scenes and reveled in the foul and sublime pleasure of it all. Blood Meridian affected me similarly, but the tone in that novel is bleaker and darker, the violence more graphic and ubiquitous, the similes more unrelievedly apocalyptic and portentous.
Richard Poe's gravelly and compassionate voice is perfectly suited to reading McCarthy's prose, especially during those intense moments when he sounds nearly stunned by the uncanny scenes or extreme similes or biblical-epical-poetic prose he's reading. And without straining for women's voices or white or black southern voices of the various characters, Poe highlights the their different personalities.
The novel is long. By the end I had begun to experience difficulty in digesting such rich prose, and to suspect that not all of Suttree's near-death hallucinatory episodes are necessary. But I enjoyed most of the novel, and fans of McCarthy or of sordid, epic, and male Americana that shoves the soul into the gutter one moment and sends it out beyond the stars the next should read Suttree.
Great scenes in Suttree: Harrogate violating shapely watermelons, going drunk to dinner in the workhouse, and diabolically plotting to dig into the banks of Knoxville from the caves underlying the city; Suttree attending a sad funeral, visiting the Catholic church of his youth, looking at his aunt's family photos, winnowing himself in green mountains, getting an earful from the "viperous evangelist," and saying "Gene, you're crazy" to Harrogate; the goat man arriving in town in just spring; the Red Reverend preaching in the gutter.
And here is a collage of choice lines:
Suttree went out through the kitchen, and through the ruined garden to the old road.
Reprobate scion of doomed Saxon clans, out of a rainy day, dream surmised.
A thousand hours or more he's spent in this sad chapel he. Spurious acolyte, dreamer impenitent. Before this tabernacle where the wise high God himself lies sleeping in his golden cup.
He fell to studying the variety of moths pressed to the glass…. Supplicants of light. Here one tinted easter pink along the edges of his white fur belly and wings. Eyes black, triangular, a robber's mask. Furred and wizened face not unlike a monkey's and wearing a windswept ermine shako. Suttree bent to see him better. What do you want?
And what could a child know of the darkness of God's plan? Or how flesh is so frail it is hardly more than a dream?
He found pale newts with enormous eyes and held them cold and quailing in his palm and watched their tiny hearts hammer under the blue and visible bones of their thimblesized briskets. They gripped his finger childlike with their tiny spatulate palps.
On these nights he'd see stars come adrift and rifle hot and dying across the face of the firmament. The enormity of the universe filled him with a strange sweet woe.
The sun don't shine on the same dog's ass everyday.
I hope not.
But there are no absolutes in human misery and things can always get worse...
The color of this life is water.
Very near the top. I've long been a Cormac McCarthy fan, and this was a challenging book, but well worth the effort and trips to the dictionary. Richard Poe does so much to bring the characters to life, each with a unique and wonderfully authentic Southern accent.
Gene Harrogate because I also love watermelons. You have to read the book to understand.
Too many to choose from--t's a very episodic book--full of interesting, quirky scenes.
Suttree. He would be a fascinating conversationalist, I'd love to find out what the problem he had with his father was, and he could probably use a good meal.
If you are willing to give it the attention you need to, this book will repay your efforts in ways you can't begin to imagine. The world of 1950s Knoxville comes to life and the characters flourish with the voice acting of Richard Poe in ways I didn't think possible. Southern accents are easy to get wrong, often becoming cartoonish or all sounding alike. Poe was able to infuse all of the characters with a life and voice of their own. Brilliant.
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
It is amazing how McCarthy can find the lyrical beauty in an absurd gout of hallelucinationatory crazy. Absolutely one of my favorite novels of all time (nearly stripped McCarthy's Blood Meridian of its bloody title). Reads like Steinbeck wrote a play based on a David Lynch film about a nightmare child of Fellini and Faulkner that is now worshiped as scripture by pimps, prostitutes, grifters, fishmongers and of course fishermen.
At times Suttree hits me like a complicated musical chorus, a surreal painting, and a ballet of misfits and grotesques, all chopped up and swirling in a dirty river's refuse. I won't look at a summer watermelon with the same degree of innocence again.
I picture McCarthy, pen in hand like a sorcerer's wand, masterfully hurling words, falling precisely into magic. Reading McCarthy is like Dorothy opening the door of her impacted little shades of gray house onto the colorful world beyond the rainbow; his genius leaves me speechless, (McCarthy is the author I would most like to meet--and I would be speechless). It does have the Faulkner vibe, as well as Steinbeck, James Joyce, Wolfe; I'm reading O'Connor now and feel a connection there also--but in my mind, McCarthy is peerless.
Suttree is the most distant from McCarthy's other novels. You read or listen and the story moves around you, revealed through the characters, the conversations, the day to day; it is macabre, distorted, dark, and humorous and warm--richer as it goes. Minds better than mine would have to explain the story--I still get a different view each time I take this heady trip. Suttree, Bellow's Henderson the Rain King, and Gardner's Nickel Mountain are books I return to, *palette cleansers*, because I read some things that leave a film around this already mired little brain, but this was my first audio experience of Suttree. Listening, his words ...yeggs, midnight melonmounters, trestle trains that go by, go by, go by, became poetry--I think this may be may favorite way to experience this book. Like a warped Twainian river ride, river rats and all, with Hieronymus Bosch at the oars.
First of all, I'm intimidated to even review a Cormac McCarthy book. That being said, if you've read other McCarthy novels, you pretty much know what to expect. The writing is....awe inspiring. I listened to the first chapter 4 times before I even continued.
I was really feeling a strong Faulkner vibe, from the beautiful prose to the surreal gothic Old-South setting. As when reading Faulkner, I sometimes had to snap myself back to the story-line after realizing that I was drifting lazily along the surface of the lovely descriptive passages.
So, if you love and appreciate good literature, get this novel. If you love it, but don't like the idea of rolling in the deep for 20 hours, get The Road instead. Personally, I savored all 20 hours, and the story was enjoyable as well. Mostly pretty dark and intense, but a few hilarious moments and characters that had me laughing out loud. I highly recommend for those who are looking for a big ribeye steak of a book.
Perhaps the best yet from McCarthy, which is saying a lot. Amazing ... a master of words. A book that I will listen to again and again.
I was not aware of the work of Cormac MaCarthy before acquiring this audio book, but now know he is an established figure in the literary world with works used for television and movies. Hie descriptions of every minute detail are quite evocative and I would not hesitate to recommend him to my friends [many of whom were amazed I had not heard of him before]
Suttree...he is the central character and a study in a disaffected man on the fringes of society with a moral compass, albeit a semi-hidden and rudimentary one who affects all the other characters, but only negligibly.
Harrogate --he befriends him, possibly because this man really needs someone to be his friend, loose cannon that he is.
The feel of the story to me evokes Camus and Pinter.
Yes. Because the combination of Richard Poe and Cormac McCarthy is a perfect combination. I've already listened to Blood Meridian several times and I'm sure this book will require several listens. The simplest observations of the surroundings in this book are poetic and strangely familiar.
Harrogate. A character I will never forget and who reminds me to never underestimate anyone.
Too many to list
"This movie will suck, because it's impossible to recreate the feel of the book"
Just get it already...
As a fan of McCarthy's other work I was looking forward to Suttree. Suttree is an unusual book as much of the content (every second or third sentence!) is comprised of beautiful descriptors, poetic metaphor and simile, most of which is irrelevant to the "story". Which takes me to the big problem with Suttree as a novel. There is no story to tell, no plot. Just a guy wondering through his alcohol-addled version of life. Not much happens. Yes, we do gain an appreciation for the particular subculture that Suttree finds himself within, and for that you can appreciate McCarthy's efforts. The narrative jumps around, reducing any coherent semblance of story that may exist. The ending isn't really an ending but just the point where the author decided to stop writing. I really tried to like Suttree, but this is not anywhere near McCarthy's best work. It comes across as a vehicle for exercising his creating juices, but unfortunately that creativity didn't extend to plot.
Stop listening to other people's opinions and form one of your own. That's sound advice, or not. It all depends on how literal you take it.
As others have noted, there is no real story here, just an author with a dictionary for a foundation of vocabulary knowledge and the poetic means to use it in a hypnotic sense. Blood Meridian pulls both the above concept and a great story together that allow McCarthy's words to spill out gore onto the page in tantric swipes of page turning horror and interest. This, while still along the same lines as that, fails to do so since the story just kind of mimics the flow of a river by meandering around bends until it just ends. Simply put, there is no driving force, no goal or underlining current that is there for the main character to achieve.
Did I like it?
Even with the above.... Yes.
Would I recommend it?
Yes. It is worth the listen just to see/hear a truly great writer flinging massive amounts of talent out across the blank page.
An evocative tale of the depression and the life of Sutree, who we meet living on a houseboat on the river eeking out a living catching fish and selling what he catches to stay alive. Rich in description of the time and place Cormac Macarthy does what he does best yet again with his gift for bring to life times past and the all kinds of characters who are beliveable and recognizable. A story with pathos and poinient, raw and often uncomfortable in the power of his descriptive narative.
He is undoubtedly a master story teller, this story will move the listener and be prepared to be deeply touched by its rawness.
"Wow - this really is something"
I've tried reading this a couple of times and it's too much to take in off the page, the words come like a flood and are very small print! The audiobook made it much more digestible, and Poe is a terrific narrator. There are so many great characters in this book, so many great scenes, such vivid language and description, and the dialogue is (as you'd expect from McCarthy) full of warmth, humour, truth and brutality.
I've never encountered anything-else like it.
If I could find a spare 20 hours then yes :)
One I'll definitely listen to again.
"Black humor in Suttree"
I have struggled reading some Cormac McCarthy novels as, although they are fantastically well written, their stories sometimes peter out or don't actually get going. I thought I would have ago at the Audible version and plumped for Sutree. So glad I did! The narrator, Richard Poe seems to develop the characters in a way that brings out the dark nature of humor in the novel, Suttree, although a tragic figure seemed to attract a number of larger than life characters in an amazing array of situations that I found hilarious! One of my favorites was Gene, a misfit who ended up in jail for abusing water melons!! How the narrator managed to read aloud without laughing I do not know!
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