I am a skeptic when it comes to books or movies recommended by others. When one person recommends a book, I actually think about reading it. When two people recommend a book, I consider it doubtfully. If three people recommend a book to me, it has no chance. That is one of the many reasons I will never read the Harry Potter books. They are just too popular. Certain books and movies somehow acquire a popular momentum that seems to be based on their popularity rather than their quality. Take Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. It was an entertaining book, but it was not the kind of groundbreaking literature you would expect from the tremendous public reaction it received. I don’t want to feel like I am reading a book because the current of pop culture has forced me into it. I’m not saying it’s right, but that’s the way I am.
For this reason I have always been a tiny bit sceptical of Cormac McCarthy. Too many people seem to like his books. Too many of his books have been turned into movies. It helped his case that I actually enjoyed the movies based on his books that I have seen (The Road and No Country For Old Men). I have thought about reading his work previously, but never overcame the hesitation caused by his popularity. That changed when my good friend Daniel Ogletree of Surf Waco loaned me Suttree. Here was a McCarthy novel of which I had never heard, recommended by someone even more reluctant to embrace pop culture than I am. I am glad to have overcome my resistance, because Suttree is one of the most original and captivating books I have come across.
Suttree tells the story of Cornelius Suttree, a young man in Knoxville, Tennessee. He has turned his back on a well-to-do family and a life of apparent ease to become a poor fisherman living in a houseboat. He moves among a circle of downtrodden outcasts and rough-edged members of society’s dregs. The book is written in non-linear form with numerous flashbacks and without the use of many conventional elements of grammar and punctuation. The result is a story that happens rather than one that is told. The events assume a reality and the characters a sincerity that is amazing. McCarthy uses language like an artist with a charcoal pencil. He creates people with fuzzy edges and shadows across their faces. They are at once clear and mysteriously undefined. The reader feels an understanding of them despite knowing very little about them. This is especially true of Suttree himself. As much of his life as McCarthy shows, the reader is left with so much unknown. This mirrors the truth of all relationships– no matter how much you know about someone else, there is always more you don’t know.
Elements of this book are definitely depressing. It takes place amidst squalor and despair, and a sequence of unfortunate events plagues Suttree throughout the book. That said, the triumph of Suttree is that it is actually optimistic and laugh-out-loud funny. Suttree fashions a happy life amongst his fellow outcasts that makes his misfortunes seem bearable. The supporting characters are absolutely hilarious and include a melon rapist (yes, I said melon rapist). The ultimate message of Suttree for me is a double-edged blade. On the one side, Suttree fashions a life worth living out of almost nothing. On the other hand, it implies that he could not have fashioned a life of happiness in the world of plenty most of us inhabit.
The Current Count:
41 Read, 59 To Go