Monday, April 03, 2006


In late October he pulled his lines. Leaves were falling in the river and the days of windy rain and woodsmoke took him back to other times more than he would have liked. He made himself up a pack from old sacking and rolled his blanket and with some rice and dried fruit and a fishline he took a bus to Gatlinburg.

He hiked up into the mountains. The season had gone before, some trees gone barren, none still green. He spent the night on a ledge above the river and all night he could hear the ghosts of lumber trains, a liquid clicking and long shunt and clatter and the jargon of old rusted trucks on rails long gone. The first few dawns half made him nauseous, he'd not seen one dead sober for so long. He sat in the cold gray light and watched, mummied up in his blanket. A small wind blew. A rack of clouds troweled across the east grew mauve and yellow and the sun came boring up. He was moved by the utter silence of it. He turned his back to the warmth. Yellow leaves were falling all through the forest and the river was filled with them, shuttling and winking, golden leaves that rushed like poured coins in the tailwater. A perishable currency, forever renewed. In an old grandfather time a ballad transpired here, some love gone wrong and a sabletressed girl drowned in an icegreen pool where she was found with her hair spreading like ink on the cold and cobbled river floor. Ebbing in her bindings, languorous as a sea dream. Looking up with eyes made huge by the water at the bellies of trout and the well of the rimpled world beyond.

--Cormac McCarthy, Suttree


I bailed on p. 100 of Blood Meridian two or three years back. Harold Bloom himself coudn't made it through Blood Meridian on his first attempt, I knew, and I couldn't take the violence and the senselessness of it any longer.

I was thinking last week that I might do the same with Suttree. There was an extensive detailing of vomit after a drunken spree early on that made me nostalgic, if vomiting there had to be, for the slapstick quality of Don Quixote's, and I wondered why I was reading a book about squalor in the first place.

The answer, of course, is for the language, that and McCarthy's steadfast refusal to provide the backstory for why an educated man such as Cornelius "Buddy" Suttree has chosen to turn his back on his well-to-do family to live among Knoxville's marginalized. Glimpses into Suttree's past are infrequent and poignant, but don't provide a reason for the estrangement. I want to know!

I wish I could quote the entire glorious 15-page chapter that begins with the two paragraphs above. Suttree wanders in the Smoky Mountains for more than a month (his 40 days in the wilderness, maybe?), observing and hallucinating, and the writing was so incredible that I had to read it twice.

More to come. I'm only three-quarters through at this point.

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