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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

“Suttree” by Cormac McCarthy, or, Why haven’t I read this book before this year?

Cormac McCarthy’s prose are always worth savoring. Some sentences are short and brilliant. Other sentences are long with dream-quality images that take you down down down like runnels of sweat to a narrative place you never new existed. Both kind are beautiful and so much better than anything the genre novels or television or most Oscar-nominated films can deliver. But of course, that is the modern-day definition of literature (or at least it should be):

“She took him across the room to a small cot. He looked like some medieval hero led by a small black gnome. He sat on the cot and lay back with his feet on the floor. She took down a lamp and lit it and put back the glass and turned to watch him. On the mantel a small brass amphora held a dark crepe rose and there was a mounted grackle with dull glass eyes and there were small objects, a box, a pincushion. In the lamplight the glass of the mirror in which these things lay doubled was the color of rhenish wine and it was streaked with mauve and metal blue, with petals of peeling spectra. She stepped from the hearth and crossed the room and went out. In the corner stood a coattree hung with celluloid birds green and yellow, and when the door closed they turned silently in the wind and dark flowers in the old coalscuttle swayed like paper cobras. Suttree stared at the fire within the iron teeth of the grate. She was gone for a long time. When she came back she stooped to look at him. He lay as before. The nausea had passed and he felt more and more removed from all that was. he said: Should I go home?”


“Mr Sutree it is our understanding that at curfew rightly decreed by law and in that hour wherein night draws to its proper close and the new day commences and contrary to conduct befitting a person of your station you betook yourself to various low places within the shire of McAnally and there did squander several ensuing years in the company of thieves, derelicts, miscreants, pariahs, poltroons, spalpeens, curmudgeons, clotpolls, murderers, gamblers, bawds, shores, trulls, brigands, topers, tosspots, sots and archsots, lobcocks, smellsmocks, runagates, rakes, and other assorted and felonious debauchees.

I was drunk, cried Suttree.”

“Suttree” is a story about humanness coming to terms with arch-humanity; from the courts to the family to the streets and to the black end of wasted matchstick. And while this world is not our world (no character in this book would likely read such a book), it is a place of immense value for our lives.

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