Going to town with reading

Susan Gibb is going to town with McCarthy and Parker at Spinning. It’s interesting to get the impressions of her experience with these writers. I’m not familiar with Parker but have read all of McCarthy’s work. Suttree, the novel she’s currently reading, is one of McCarthy’s best novels, and deals with one his most complex characters in Cornelius Suttree. Interestingly enough, I’ve had my own relationship with the novel for a long time, reading through the novel for its bits and pieces of excellence and enjoying what amounts to a novel whose plot is less important than its moments in time. What’s the story here is a fairly broad question.

Suttree walks a fine line. He has given up his born life for another, beyond expectation. In a way the novel is about choice, following choice to its character-driven conclusion. A character figures he’ll make money by killing bats. What happens next? A man returns to his old hunting grounds and is run out of town for irreconcilable things he’s done. But so what about “choice.” Alcoholism is a major issue in the novel, but the novel isn’t about drink. Black and white is also an issue, but the novel isn’t about race. These things are “the environment” that Suttree walks through; they are a part of the nartural order as it is at this moment in time. Old age, poverty, cultural blight. Youth and morality. All these elements of life find their way into the novel, and like rocks, they hurt when you kick them. In addition, the novel is intensely moral, but there is no moral center. The conditions simply won’t allow it. Ultimately, religion doesn’t save anyone in the novel. Faith, belief, and prayer are only a part of the backdrop. In the novel, the churches are broken, and the other institutions, such as justice, are a foggy mess.

Suttree asks whether there are monsters in him, and the answer is “of course.” But does he make the monsters? What does he mean by “in”?

Entropy and choice. Suttree is a powerful character. Powerful, powerless, deserving, undeserving. Wholesome, unwholesome. He’s one of the most humen characters I’ve ever read.

1 thought on “Going to town with reading

  1. susan

    Never wanted so much to discuss a book. It is endless in its questions and yet is satisfying in its story. I think you have it nailed with your estimation of Suttree as so completely human, and think that valuation answers the question of monsters within. Don’t we all harbor them? Don’t we daily forget them unless they rattle at the gates, and we check the lock to make sure it is secure. Or sometimes, let them loose.

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