Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book


Rate this book
This compelling novel has as its protagonist Cornelius Suttree, living alone and in exile in a disintegrating houseboat on the wrong side of the Tennessee River close by Knoxville. He stays at the edge of an outcast community inhabited by eccentrics, criminals and the poverty-stricken. Rising above the physical and human squalor around him, his detachment and wry humour enable him to survive dereliction and destitution with dignity.

471 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 1979

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Cormac McCarthy

79 books21.7k followers
Cormac McCarthy is an American novelist and playwright. He has written twelve novels in the Southern Gothic, western, and post-apocalyptic genres and has also written plays and screenplays. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for The Road, and his 2005 novel No Country for Old Men was adapted as a 2007 film of the same name, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. His earlier Blood Meridian (1985) was among Time Magazine's poll of 100 best English-language books published between 1925 and 2005, and he placed joint runner-up for a similar title in a poll taken in 2006 by The New York Times of the best American fiction published in the last 25 years. Literary critic Harold Bloom named him one of the four major American novelists of his time, along with Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and Philip Roth. He is frequently compared by modern reviewers to William Faulkner. In 2009, Cormac McCarthy won the PEN/Saul Bellow Award, a lifetime achievement award given by the PEN American Center.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
9,796 (46%)
4 stars
6,902 (32%)
3 stars
3,228 (15%)
2 stars
834 (3%)
1 star
329 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,782 reviews
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 2 books247k followers
August 2, 2019
"Mr. Suttree it is our understanding that at curfew rightly decreed by law and in that hour wherein nigh 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, whores, trulls, brigands, topers, tosspots, sots and archsots, lobcocks, smellsmocks, runagates, rakes, and other assorted and felonious debauchees.

I was drunk, cried Suttree."

You were indeed Mr. Cornelius Suttree. You drank the river dry. Why, Suttree, why must you be so? You are a bright boy and there is really no call for you to be hanging about with the lowest of the low. You could have made something of yourself. You came from a good family...well most of the family tree seems pretty solid.

"Mr. Suttree in what year did your greatuncle Jeffrey pass away?

It was in 1884.

Did he die by natural causes?

No sir.

And what were the circumstances surrounding his death.

He was taking part in a public function when the platform gave way.

Our information is that he was hanged for a homicide.


Every family has a few hiccups.

You don't like your family much. You are in hiding not only from them, but a wife and a son you left behind. You make a haphazard living running a trot line. Selling fish for nickles and dimes don't put much comfort in the belly. You live on the river in an abandoned house boat. That boat might be fine in the summer time, but it sure got damned cold in the winter time didn't it sir?


"Ice lay along the shore, frangible plates skewed up and broken on the mud and the small icegardens whitely all down the drained and frozen flats where delicate crystal columns sprouted from the mire. He hauled forth is shriveled giblet and pissed a long and smoking piss into the river and spat and buttoned and went in again. He kicked the door shut and stood before the stove in a gesture of enormous exhortation. A frozen hermit. His lower jaw in a seizure."

Your best friend, Gene Harrogate is a melonmounter. Yes, he stuck his dingus in a variety of citrullus vulgaris. They sent him to prison. What the hell else were they supposed to do with him? Once they found out in prison things got rough for the both of you didn't it Suttree? "The crimes of the moonlight melonmounter followed him as crimes will." Yes sirree a prison bad ass put lumps on both your skulls.

The Patch where Harrogate fell in lust.

Your other friend Billy Ray likes to beat up cops. He is barely recovered from one assault when he takes on another trio of cops. These aren't the right sorts of people to be friends with. You can't expect to live a long and healthy life surrounding yourself with people like this.

Are you sad Suttree?

You hook up with this pretty filly from Chicago. Wasn't her name Joyce? Yes, yes here it is in my notes... Joyce from Chicago. You really liked Joyce didn't ya? That woman knows her way around a penis.

There was all together too much of her sitting there, the broad expanse of thigh cradled in the insubstantial stocking and garters with the pale flesh pursed and her full breasts and the sootblack piping of her eyelids, a gaudish rake of metaldust in prussian blue where cerulean moths had fluttered her wake from some outlandish dream. Suttree gradually going away in the sheer outrageous sentience of her. Their glasses clicked on the tabletop. Her hot spiced tongue fat in his mouth and her hands all over him liked the very witch of fuck.

Unfortunately Joyce needs to keep plying her trade to keep you in clothes, toiletries, and living quarters. You are pretty cool about it, but the life of a whore starts to wear on her, and when she starts putting on weight then the real fireworks started. Yes indeed, one thing we know you are good at Suttree...yes we do...we know you are good at running.

Are you sad Suttree? Is it soul sadness?

It is no wonder you end up in the hospital with Typhoid Fever. You never eat right and you drink too much. You shiver and shake and suffer heat stroke. Your immune system is almost nonexistence. You almost checked out my friend. And now you have this writer...this Cormac McCarthy character from Knoxville who wrote a book about you.

Cormac McCarthy

The questions will just never end now. So what's next for Suttree? At the end of the book you are, supposedly, finally shaking the dust of Tennessee from your clothes. "He was a man with no plans for going back the way he'd come nor telling any soul at all what he had seen."

Too late Suttree, you are just too damn late.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at: https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,123 reviews1,625 followers
January 20, 2023

Versione extra lusso ed extra large della casa di Suttree.

Un McCarthy diverso. E per certi versi direi molto diverso, in questo suo opus magnum, il suo romanzo più voluminoso, e da molti considerato il suo capolavoro (forse anche per la lunga gestazione, una ventina d’anni): non da me però, che pur avendolo apprezzato e goduto, rimango legato ai suoi quattro “western”.

Diverso non solo per mole, ma anche per stile e tono.
È il suo libro più divertente, se così può dire, quello dove la sua ironia traspare maggiormente.
È opera in qualche modo rapsodica, frammentata: la trama è lasca, si compone e desume a posteriori.
Ma McCarthy non segue una griglia narrativa, di sicuro non una rigida: va avanti e indietro nel tempo (principalmente la storia è collocata nei primi anni Cinquanta), cambia persona, anche se per la maggior parte del tempo vince la terza singolare, il classico narratore, si focalizza su singole scene, combatte la sua personale battaglia contro le virgole (e virgolette, queste ultime le odia proprio) che sostituisce con la preposizione “e”, sembra soprattutto concentrato a descrivere il paesaggio, a far parlare il ‘territorio’.
E continua a lasciarci fuori dalla mente dei suoi personaggi.

Versione bucolica di Suttree a pesca sul fiume Tennessee.

Suttree è il cognome del protagonista. Che di nome fa Cornelius, ma viene perlopiù chiamato con diminutivi e appellativi vari, tipo Buddy, Bud, Sut.
È rampollo di famiglia benestante, la classica ‘buona’ famiglia del sud. Per qualche motivo non meglio precisato, Suttree la abbandona e a suo modo rinnega. Si lascia dietro anche una giovane moglie con un figlio piccolissimo.
Di questa sua famiglia facciamo conoscenza verso un quarto del romanzo quando Suttree torna a ‘casa’ perché ha saputo che il suo bambino è morto (malattia): la moglie lo accoglie nel peggiore dei modi, e altrettanto fa la famiglia d’origine. Al funerale Suttree rimane in disparte, per poi trattenersi da solo a ricoprire di terra la fossa dove è stata calata la piccola bara, mentre intorno gli addetti alle onoranze funebri gli fanno notare che col trattore che hanno portato si farebbe prima.

Versione pastorale della campagna intorno a Knoxville.

Suttree mi pare il meno granitico e laconico dei protagonisti mccarthyani, che spesso sembrano affetti da mutismo.
Ma accanto a protagonisti parchi di parole, McCarthy pone spesso personaggi loquaci, se non addirittura logorroici: come il celebre verboso giudice Holden nel Meridiano di sangue, come qui il giovane Harrogate, che verrebbe da definire povero di mente, o se non altro molto ingenuo (viene arrestato perché colto in flagrante di notte in un campo di cocomeri a fornicare con i grossi frutti).

Il fiume Tennessee con i battelli che lo percorrono, che come i treni ricorrono spesso nel romanzo.

Nel ‘territorio’, nel paesaggio perlopiù urbano, qualche volta campestre, è inclusa ovviamente anche la fauna umana. E qui ce n’è un bel campionario: il capraio, il cenciaiolo, il ferroviere, i pescatori, il… Un mondo rurale che vive ai margini della città (Knoxville, Tennessee), nei quartieri bassi, un’umanità povera, esclusa dal processo del progresso anche per propria scelta, che sembra andare contro la corrente, insofferente alle autorità e alle istituzioni, senzatetto ladruncoli ubriaconi sottoproletari. Un’umanità che trascorre la vita (perché noi siamo chi e cosa siamo), la cui principale occupazione è mettere il pranzo insieme con la cena, procurarsi da mangiare, anche tra i rifiuti, arrangiarsi (perfino a lavorare se necessario) per potersi sedere a tavola con un piatto davanti che contenga qualcosa di commestibile.

Cartolina di Gay Street verso il 1910.

È gente così che Suttree sceglie di vivere e frequentare, nel momento in cui abbandona la magione di famiglia per andare a vivere in una casetta galleggiante sul fiume Tennessee nella periferia di Knoxville. Gente conosciuta nel suo soggiorno dietro le sbarre, anche se quella prigione viene definita campo di lavoro: eppure le condizioni sono le medesime, i secondini picchiano col manganello, la mensa fa schifo, le celle pure, e chi fa casino finisce in una gabbia-scatola di dimensioni meno che ridotte. Da questo luogo gli amici di Suttree entrano ed escono: e ogni volta che sono dentro annunciano che quella è l’ultima, una volta fuori nessuno ce li riporterà. Ma poi succede di nuovo.
E succede perché basta essere ubriachi, essersi vomitati addosso, essere poveri, andare in giro negli orari sbagliati e nella parte della città sbagliata

Cartolina di Knoxville degli anni ’50.

La violenza (biblica e non solo) che abita la narrativa di McCarthy compare anche qui, ma in forma ridotta, mitigata, senza calcare, senza indulgenza: ci sono le manganellate delle guardie carcerarie, le botte, le risse, ma fa tutto parte di un quotidiano più mite, come il rancio, come dormire.

McCarthy è nato e cresciuto proprio a Knoxville in Tennessee. E qui ha ambientato i suoi primi romanzi (Il guardiano del frutteto, Il buio fuori, Figlio di Dio, e questo Suttree) e poi l’ultimo The Road).Dopo di che, seguendo il trasloco dello scrittore dal sud est al sud ovest, a dimostrazione che McCarthy scrive solo di luoghi che conosce (molto bene), cambiando geografia sembra cambiare il centro dell’interesse di McCarthy, dalla vita rurale degli Appalachi alle dinamiche della frontiera.

Lo spazio, inteso tanto come entità geografica quanto considerato in relazione alle dinamiche sociali che su questo si instaurano, il posto partecipa allo sviluppo narrativo in tutta i romanzi di McCarthy. Il senso della terra, una terra, delle stagioni che la modificano lasciandola comunque immutabile in quanto si ripetono a ciclo annuale.
E forse perché il romanzo ha, fatto insolito per McCarthy, ambientazione urbana, anziché in mezzo agli Appalachi o al sudovest di frontiera, il mondo che circonda questa umanità è più sporco, marcescente, putrefatto, mucido, fracido, fangoso, puzzolente, in decomposizione, infestato da topi e ratti, di quanto McCarthy mi abbia abituato finora. Sembra difficile muoversi, respirare, mangiare, dormire, vivere senza infettarsi.

Il ponte di Gay Street a Knoxville.

McCarthy non lo esplicita, ma la sensazione è che Suttree stia espiando qualcosa che sente come colpa, forse l’appartenenza a una ricca famiglia di pseudonobiltà del Sud, o forse il fatto d’averla abbandonata. Forse, entrambe le cose. E probabilmente è per questo che spende le sue giornate come fa, tra reietti e pescigatto, tra piccoli criminali del ghetto di Knoxville e lunghe bevute suicide. Una scelta di vita vagamente francescana.
C’è un altro aspetto che lo perseguita: l’essere il sopravvissuto a un parto gemellare. Il fantasma del gemello morto ritorna più volte.
L’espiazione, secondo me, include il viaggio che Suttree intraprende a circa metà del racconto: via dalla civiltà (civiltà) verso la wilderness, via dalla città e su sugli Appalachi.
Verso la conclusione Suttree lotta tra la vita e la morte in un letto d’ospedale per una grave febbre tifoide: sono pagine dedicate alle sue allucinazioni, nelle quali il fratello gemello riappare a personificare la morte in generale. La sua conclusione, la verità finale è che di Suttree ce n’è uno e uno soltanto (there is one Suttree and one Suttree only). Verità che mi viene voglia di affiancare a quest���altra espressa in un altro punto del romanzo:
Credo che gli ultimi e i primi soffrono allo stesso modo perché non è solo nelle tenebre della notte che tutte le anime sono un’anima sola.

La statua di Cornelius Suttree a Knoxville.

Non sono un miscredente. Non far caso a quello che dicono.
Ho sempre pensato che esiste un Dio.
È solo che non mi è mai piaciuto.

Profile Image for Luís.
1,826 reviews477 followers
March 6, 2023
I am helpless to talk about this book. There were a lot of words that I did not understand. Suttree, from Cormac, is a book that deserves, much like some of Malick's films. The pen of the big Mac is like a brush taking its time on the canvas, where a sentence would suffice to describe a flight of birds making crates. Here we are far from Kerouac and its minor ballads on the road.
Here is America lost. At the edge of Knoxville live the outcasts, the excluded, voluntary or not, of the system; there are whores, alcoholics, beggars, blind, black, white, fighting, it spells, it survives.
Occasionally, there are chance meetings, beautiful cars, and rotten rooms at $ 5 a week when the winter is too harsh and the river freezes. There are little coffee tricks, the cola watered with whiskey adulterated, and the grocery store around this court of miracles.
Again, I could say that this novel is rich, beautiful, and superbly written. Cormac is a genius.
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 2 books1,331 followers
September 8, 2017
This was my first foray into McCarthy, and what a foray it was. The prose hit me with a whallop--so dense and driving, a slow-moving ineluctable train of words that carries the reader to dark and squalid and even funny places as we follow Cornelius Suttree, a privileged son who's given it all up to live as an outcast among outcasts. This is vintage early McCarthy--before All the Pretty Horses made him more popular and, dare I say it?, somewhat less interesting.
Profile Image for Eddie Watkins.
Author 6 books5,450 followers
October 8, 2014
Life as infinitely detailed turbid flow. Life’s flow so drenched with death there’s hardly need of another name for it; death as life’s incorporated twin. It’s all a river and it flows. Suttree is saturated with this outlook, this philosophy, though it remains unspoken, instead being simply shown, in a style itself all detail and turbid flow. In fact, the style itself is so integral to the book’s texture and meaning, and the structure of it all so structureless (being modeled on riverflow as it is, words jostled by the very meaning they embody), that it reads almost as an experimental novel, by which I mean only that it is one extended exercise in verbal excessiveness that pushes the form’s limits, and that there’s something simply audacious about it, something almost Fuck off and let me write what the fuck I want about it. Suttree is one of the most engrossing and enriching novels I have ever read, a perfect melding of pure verbal texture and sensual detail culled from actual lived life. It reeks of authenticity. You almost have to scrape each page off your shoes as you flow and roam along with it. And yet the language is so weird at times! So language-centric and partially opaque that the reader’s attention is drawn to the incredible verbal surface only to then discover the incredible human depths contained within unreachable by language. It satisfies the Joycean and the Bukowskian in all of us all stewed together. And while not exactly a moral or ethical guidebook, in that it never speaks its meaning or tries to teach, the humanity embodied by its verbal intricacy is example enough of open-heartedness and compassion for the wayward and down-and-out and downright tragic, for the mass of human dregs always with us, however unnoticed or ignored. But wedded to this open-heartedness and compassion is a detachment – again shown by the very body of the book rather than spoken, heightened by the very language, by the arcane and technical terms so abstract-seeming and detached from the scum and slithering earthiness of the book's depictions – that is a profound lesson in itself, as compassion is often assumed to be measured by how far one is willing to dangerously embroil one’s self in another’s suffering, and not by a heart that radiates outward from relative safety. Not that Cornelius Suttree lives in fear and thus in circumscribed safety, but he lives by his own unspoken code of equality and openness and self-preservation, and so his “safety” is like the safety of a self-sufficient pioneer – anything can happen at any time and he will be prepared for it and the adaptations required, until that one time he’s not and he’s either dead or lost. He understands that we are all alone and so must look out for ourselves, but he also understands that we are all the same and so must look out for each other, though in the end not another soul can save us, or really be there as a substantial presence in our individual unfathomable depths, or at our deaths. An impersonal fluctuating pain and joy-filled compound of profound aloneness and profound community tossed and dunked and driven and sucked up and spewed back out and sucked back in by life’s recirculating turbid flow.

Profile Image for Lyn.
1,852 reviews16.4k followers
February 22, 2019
“Hard weather, says the old man. So let it be. Wrap me in the weathers of the earth, I will be hard and hard. My face will wash rain like the stones. ”

Cormac McCarthy’s unique and distinctive voice in American literature is in rare form in his 1979 Southern Gothic novel about a young man who steps away from a comfortable life with an affluent family to live on the Knoxville riverfront within a populace of drunks and ne’er do wells. Reminiscent of Steinbeck, Faulkner, James Joyce, and Robert Penn Warren but with a fantastic undercurrent like Ray Bradbury; McCarthy’s usually stoic prose is here complex and at times mystical.

“Remember her hair in the morning before it was pinned, black, rampant, savage with loveliness. As if she slept in perpetual storm.”

While the setting and picaresque themes will draw comparisons to Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat, this is after all McCarthy and his pallet is filled with darker hues. Like Bradbury’s October people, Cormac McCarthy is a resident of the Dusk; a citizen of that time of constant dreary and forlorn harbingers. He is the herald of the doom to come, of the ceaseless reminder of the night to follow.

“How surely are the dead beyond death. Death is what the living carry with them. A state of dread, like some uncanny foretaste of a bitter memory. But the dead do not remember and nothingness is not a curse. Far from it.”

But this is also one of his more humorous works (for him) and there was comic relief and drawn as Faulkner did the Snopes, seemingly sprung up blind and ignorant from the hot earth. Gene Harrogate is this source of ironic tomfoolery and his bumpkin misadventures were some of the highlights of this primarily somber work.

One word about Harrogate: watermelons.

McCarthy’s use of symbolism and metaphor was also strongly evident here, as the reader finds ubiquitous references to Christian and Biblical themes. The author also draws on deeper, more atavistic images of pre-Christian Celtic subjects that works well with the mid-century east Tennessee setting.

“What deity in the realms of dementia, what rabid god decocted out of the smoking lobes of hydrophobia could have devised a keeping place for souls so poor as is this flesh. This mawky worm-bent tabernacle.”

Ultimately it is McCarthy’s great talent, his virtuosity with the written word that makes this a great work and declares its place high on the shelf of American literature.

A book that should be on a short list of modern works that must be read.

Profile Image for Lori.
308 reviews100 followers
December 1, 2017
This is my favorite Cormac McCarthy novel so far. It’s a horrifying and funny ramble of the guy’s life. I thought it had some really good vignettes, but a lot of the time I wasn’t interested. I noticed most of the reviews are overwhelmingly positive. I’m not so moved.

There is really not much of a story. The dialogue in dialect is great. The poetic spill of words is incredible. You could draw a bath of them and soak, so long as you’re not too fussy about the cigarette butts and used condoms bobbing around you. Or, your one of those people that enjoy complaining about the trash and debris in your travels.

Aside from a character based on the Goat Man, Charles "Ches" McCartney, (1901?–1998), it did not especially remind me of home. Taken as a whole, I offer a heartfelt ‘Thanks be to God’ for the blessed mercy to me and mine. Maybe, I should have waited for a hell on earth story. I’m already reading two books based in hell, well I suspect one’s purgatory.

No offense to any of the GR reviews, but I liked Jerome Charyn’s 1979 review best. So, I included a link.

Profile Image for Lawyer.
384 reviews829 followers
September 6, 2019
Suttree: Cormac McCarthy's Conclusion to a Southern Quartet

Suttree by Cormac McCarthy was chosen as a group read by members of On the Southern Literary Trail in May, 2012 and August, 2019.

Suttree was published February 1, 1979.


First Edition

On the dust jacket Cormac McCarthy appears a young man.


McCarthy's first novel, The Orchard Keeper was published in 1965. Sources clearly indicate that Suttree was already a work in progress. Jerome Charyn reviewed Suttree for the New York Times and said that McCarthy actually wrote Suttree over a thirty year span. I wouldn't argue. It's just that good. It's just that perfect.

Cornelius Suttree is the son of a wealthy and privileged family. He turns his back on an easy life style and becomes a regular roamer among the outcasts and misfits of Memphis Society in the McAnally Community down by the Tennessee River.


McAnally Community

Suttree lives in a small shanty house boat below McAnally.


In the background stands the Gay Bridge, where Suttree views the recovery of a suicide at the beginning of the story.

Suttree readily takes to the life of a river rat. He runs trotlines, selling the carp and catfish on his hooks at the market and other customers on his regular route through McAnally.


Running a trotline

Although Suttree is the central voice in the novel, Suttree is surrounded by a numerous crowd of characters reminiscent of Steinbeck's inhabitants of Cannery Row. The dialog is lean, each word ringing true.

Suttree is a novel to be savored and read carefully. Time shifts throughout the novel. Flashbacks abound. Other action occurs in the present. A careful reading indicates that Suttree looks back on his past life in Knoxville, having moved on. However, Suttree is a novel that becomes a seamless read, endlessly engrossing, and completely fascinating.

Knoxville and the river become as significant characters as the men and women who live in town and on the river. McCarthy's brings life on the river alive. You can hear it, smell it, feel it.

Suttree is a constant puzzle. McCarthy never reveals the reason for his separation from his family. However, Suttree served time in a Tennessee Workhouse, a lesser security level of the Tennessee Penitentiary system for an attempted pharmacy robbery. Whether Suttree's family banished him, or Suttree chose to save his family's is never clearly revealed.

Nor is Suttree a stranger to love. He was married and had a son. That he remembered his wife's hair, black, spread across the pillow, storm blown, after they had shared their marriage bed clearly indicate that he did not deliberately seek the life of a loner. Once again, his abandonment of his wife and child is left unclear.

Reading Suttree is enough to make you believe Mark Twain has returned from the dead and written the later years of Huck Finn's life, unhindered by the social conventions that Twain pressed but did not cross excessively in his own life time.

While many McCarthy readers and reviewers consistently point to Blood Meridian as his greatest work, I'll choose, Suttree. Highly recommended. This is SIX STARS.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book462 followers
May 15, 2021
Not since I first read Tom Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel have I encountered anyone who could write prose that rings so much like poetry or song lyric as Cormac McCarthy. If I were rating just the opening section of this book, it would get 5-stars, hands down. To say McCarthy conjures up other great writers is an understatement, for in addition to Wolfe, I immediately thought of Walt Whitman and the earthy descriptions in Song of Myself. Finally, as other readers have so often remarked, he channels Faulkner in many ways as well, in both style, content, and his understanding of what transpires beneath the skin of human beings.

That Cormac McCarthy awakens memories of other writers is certainly not to say he is a derivative of anyone else. Ah, no, he is uniquely himself and his writing, while perhaps informed by these great pens, stands separate and apart from them, admitting him to their ranks rather than adding him to their imitators. With a grit that is uniquely his own, he shuns the pretty and simple, and goes with fury for the sordid and complex.

Dear friend now in the dusty clockless hours of the town when the streets lie black and steaming in the wake of the watertrucks and now when the drunk and the homeless have washed up in the lee of walls in alleys or abandoned lots and cats go forth highshouldered and lean in the grim perimeters about, now in these sootblacked brick or cobbled doors no soul shall walk save you.

And there we are, alone in a street with the night people and prowling cats, with dirt and soot and all that is unsavory and smelly, sweaty with the steam the early morning water trucks have left behind, and we know this trip might be frightening but it is sure to be enlightening.

If you have ever walked a city street and turned your head to avoid looking at the homeless sleeping in a park, or if you have crinkled your nose because you have ventured into an area where people are as likely to piss on a street corner as seek a toilet, or if you have felt a little tingle of fear on your spine when traveling through a section of a city that you know is prone to drive-by shootings, you will recognize the Knoxville of this book. You may be afraid, but Cormac McCarthy is not afraid. He explores the thin line between the educated and privileged life and that of the uneducated and poverty-stricken and he never flinches even the tiniest bit. He finds the drunken slovenliness, but he also finds the humanity, kindness, and humor. He knocks down every stereotype and hands you a person.

I had a friend who was prone to say, when things went wrong, “life’s a bitch and then you die.” That might well describe the world of Suttree, but it would leave out all the living that is done between the bitchiness and the death, and those moments of friendship and concern might be what the living is really all about. Because in the midst of it all, there are moments of transcendence:

He looked at a world of incredible loveliness. Old distaff Celt’s blood in some back chamber of his brain moved him to discourse with the birches, with the oaks. A cool green fire kept breaking in the woods and he could hear the footsteps of the dead. Everything had fallen from him. He scarce could tell where his being ended or the world began nor did he care.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,670 followers
August 28, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Katie.
263 reviews333 followers
January 31, 2019
In this novel McCarthy abandons his usual formula. Instead of initially creating a close relationship of innocence and leading it into perils here he gives us a solitary itinerant character who, upon release from prison, sets up home in a shack by the Mississippi River. The novel follows the somewhat aimless trials and tribulations of Cornelius Suttree. Suttree is McCarthy's most self-indulgent novel. In all his novels he occasionally juxtaposes his minimalistic sentence writing with complex high-flying lyrical outbursts, a tendency I never much liked but could ignore. Here the lyrical outbursts are much more frequent and impossible to ignore. It's as if he sets himself the challenge of incorporating a few thoroughly obscure and heavyweighted words into a sentence. Like this -

"One spring morning timing the lean near-liquid progress of a horse on a track, the dust exploding, the rapid hasping of his hocks, coming up the straight foreshortened and awobble and passing elongate and birdlike wish harsh breaths and slatted brisket heaving and the muscles sliding and brunching in clocklike flexion under the wet black hide and a gout of foam hung from the long jaw and then gone in a muted hoofclatter, the aging magistrate snapped his thumb from the keep of the stopwatch he held and palmed it into his waistcoat pocket and looking at nothing, nor child nor horse, said anent that simple comparison of rotary motions and in the oratory to which he was prone that they had witnessed a thing against which time would not prevail."

This kind of sentence writing reminds me of someone sowing heavy glittering jewels into the fabric of a kite. Might look impressive but the overloaded kite will never get off the ground. There are some awesomely brilliant scenes in this novel but overall the aimlessness of Suttree himself infected the narrative drive for me and it was also too loose-limbed and pretentious for me to warm to.
Profile Image for Edward.
417 reviews392 followers
April 10, 2017
No one in the world can write like McCarthy. The power of his sentences comes not from ease and lightness and polish - they are hard and angular like a sculpted figure whittled laboriously from a gnarled hunk of wood, rendered the more striking for the humble matter from which it was hewn. The prose is wild and inscrutable, awash with metaphor and arcane vocabulary and curiouslyformed compoundwords to confound the reader - the purpose seems to be to locate the limit of language and extract from it every available quantum of substance.

There is no neat little story, no tidy character arc. Like all McCarthy's novels, Suttree is an attempt to make sense of the anguish and absurdity of a life lived within the crucible of an indifferent universe, where redemption is nonexistent and slow entropic decay is the natural order of things.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
769 reviews1,146 followers
November 15, 2021
"Seems like when the shit hits the fan they all clear out. Even the goddamn cat."

There are those books that make you feel all light and happy and squiggly inside. They're so full of positivity that you can't help but smile and feel better about everything.

Suttree is not that kind of book. I don't think Cormac McCarthy knows how to write those kinds of books. His shit is bleak. It drags you into the pit of despair along with his miserable characters. And yet you can't help but be sucked into the story, to almost want to be dragged down with them.

The characters in Suttree never seem to catch a break. They are mired in poverty with little hope of ever rising above their circumstances. Suttree lives in a disintegrating houseboat, making a meager living from fishing.

His friends are in no better shape. They are despondent and often resort to crime in order to make ends meet. They are even worse off because, unlike Suttree, they didn't choose this life. Suttree came from privilege but we never learn why he gave it up and came to live among the crazed and impoverished.

No matter what happens or what terrible things he witnesses, Suttree remains strangely detached. He takes things in stride and he never judges those who resort to crime.

I'm not sure what it is about McCarthy's writing that is so compelling. This wasn't an enjoyable book to read. And yet.... and yet I didn't not want to read it. I almost felt like I had to, after reading the first few pages. This is the second book of his that has done that to me and it must be part of his genius.

3.5 stars rounded up.

"What deity in the realms of dementia, what rabid god decocted out of the smoking lobes of hydrophobia could have devised a keeping place for souls so poor as is this flesh."
Profile Image for Melki.
5,674 reviews2,324 followers
August 29, 2021
A man spends a few years of his life living on the river; years that are filled with catfish and carp, sex and death, vile bodies, and viler bodily fluids. Coffee-colored and seething, the river waits, always in the background, vying for billing as protagonist.

He could hear the river talking softly beneath him, heavy old river with wrinkled face.

The book is filled with adventures in drunken debauchery and foiled get-rich-quick schemes. And always, always, there is some heinous concoction to cloud the mind and warm the belly.

Suttree took the bottle and twirled off the little fluted plastic cap and hooked a good snot of it back.
Smoke rose from his noseholes.

This is not a pretty book. There is nothing uplifting, though sly humor creeps through, sometimes when least expected.
Mostly it is a slimy, humid, unpleasant trudge through the mire.

But, damn! It's a good one!

Did you ever know anybody to be so bad about luck?
Suttree said he had. He said that things would get better.
The old man shook his head doubtfully, paying the band of his cap through his fingers. I'm satisfied they cain't get no worse, he said.
But there are no absolutes in human misery and things can always get worse, only Suttree didn't say so.

See? A big, blood and guts book, gleaming like fresh roadkill in the gutter.

And I mean that in the best possible way.
Profile Image for Perry.
631 reviews502 followers
June 18, 2017
Cormac McCarthy at his best--..writing with the throttle wide open--is still the closest thing to heroin you can buy in a bookstore. --Hal Crowther
A Smoky Mountain High: Trudging through Smokies with Loquacious, Abstruse McCarthy

Haled by cognoscenti, this early Cormac McCarthy tale follows the travails of Cornelius Suttree, a wayward, educated and privileged itinerant, as he wanders through the backwoods and over the rivers and streams of the Smoky Mountains, his acquaintances with the hillbillies, bums, misfits, miscreants and poverty-stricken, and his rotten, even tragic, relationships with honeys from the hinterland.

This novel was, as are all other McCarthy novels I've read except All the Pretty Horses, filled with long stretches so verbose and packed with punishing esoteric descriptions and arcane allusions that it took away the flow of the story.

Samples I was able to quickly pull:
Where hunters and woodcutters once slept in their boots by the dying light of their thousand fires and went on, old teutonic forebears with eyes incandesced by the visionary light of a massive rapacity, wave on wave of the violent and the insane, their brains stoked with spoorless analogues of all that was, lean aryans with their abrogate Semitic chapbook reenacting the dramas and parable therein...

...Gray vines coiled leftward in this northern hemisphere, what winds them shapes the dogwhelk's shell. ... A dim world receded above his upturned toes, shapes of skewed shacks erupted bluely in the niggard lamplight. ... Dim scenes pooling in the summer night, wan ink wash of junks tilting against a paper sky, rorschach boatmen poling mutely over a mooncobbled sea. ... As he rocks in his rusty pannier to the sea's floor in a drifting stain of guano.

... Bechrismed with scented oils he lay boneless in a cold euphoria.
I wish I could be intelligent enough to understand, much less comprehend, all this on a quick read.

Cabalistic, pleonastic and recondite issues aside ;-), this simply was not nearly as memorable or enjoyable as Blood Meridian, All the Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men.

*Modified Benjamin Disraeli's 1878 pan of Gladstone.
Profile Image for J.
730 reviews430 followers
July 19, 2014
This is quite the slow burn. Most of Mccarthy's other works are very plot-driven, and you see that really reinforced in his western novels where you have this incredibly hypnotic language coalescing with (often horrific) events to create this sort of magisterial whirlwind of doom which just pulls you in with it's richness. That sort of building up takes a back burner here in favor of something which just sort of flows out in all directions, trying to encompass totally the world of the downtrodden and dispossessed in and around Knoxville, circa, 1951. Mccarthy assembles this incredible rogues gallery of outcasts and we just sort of follow them around, watching them drink, fight, fuck, and in general just shyst their way through life. And yet we always return to Cornelius Suttree, an odd and supremely lonely man, as he stumbles through life, moving between these almost Huckleberry Finnesque moments of humor and surprising tenderness, and these really gothic moments of isolation and loss.
Unlike say Blood Meridian or All the Pretty Horses, I found that this took a few days to really work its way into my head. But once it did, I actually kind of wanted the stunning descriptions of floating river trash and burnt out industrial parks to just keep going on. If you've ever felt degenerate, or shiftless or lonely, you'll probably find that Suttree resonates, albeit slowly.
Profile Image for Lane Wilkinson.
153 reviews106 followers
April 6, 2008
'Suttree' goes directly into my own, personal daydream of the idealized 20th century canon. The heavily stylized prose hearkens back to the works of Joyce, Steinbeck, Algren, Faulkner, and Celine. Indeed, I have yet to encounter another book that so perfectly synthesizes these five unique voices of 20th century literature

'Suttree', at heart, is a sort of urban pastoral, replete with the myriad voices of a depressed, post-war Knoxville. Cornelius Suttree's wanderings echo precisely the tourist-guide to Dublin that is found in 'Ulysses'. From the bottle-broken industry fields of the riverfront to the Dickensian squalor of McAnally Flats, every inch of pavement in downtown Knoxville is meticulously cataloged and populated with all manner of tramps, lowlifes, and assorted miscreants.

This tour of the destitute is peppered with the strange vernacular of the streets, a sort of Southern-drawl meets drunken brusque. Dialogues rise and fall with a natural cadence that is absolutely mesmerizing.

In particular, I was struck by the amazing brevity with which some events unfolded. Though many pages might be spent on arguably mundane details of fishing, socializing, or even decorating basement rentals (albeit, in beautiful prose), life-changing events such as the deaths of lovers, the deterioration of relationships, and the dire consequences of drunken brawls sometimes appear within the space of one or two paragraphs. Characters are killed and forgotten in a single sentence, which only adds to the narrative, insofar as Suttree, at heart, is a man who has given up. Love, death, and squalor make no impression on Suttree, and he becomes a sort of infinitely malleable and sadly detached figure. Where a night if drinking and screwing occupies twenty pages, the death of a friend in a barfight later that night only warrants a single paragraph. This sort of terse approach makes 'Suttree' read as a psychological survey of despondency.

Yet, Suttree is admirable in his insouciance. His ineffable lack of concern for the crumbling world around him gives him a strength that is lacking in all of the other characters. It seems not so much that Suttree has given up on life, rather, he seems to have adopted the infinite resignation of some existential sage.

Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,230 reviews451 followers
May 28, 2017
To paraphrase Jerry Garcia: What a long strange trip this book has been. Most of it takes place on the waterfront of Knoxville, Tennessee, circa early 1950's. Suttree is a "river rat", living in a derelict houseboat and making his living as a fisherman, cavorting with down and out members of the Knoxville underworld. The difference between them and Suttree is that he was born into a privileged family and has chosen this life. We never find out why, and are only given a few hints of his previous life. What we do know is that he is smarter than his cronies, and they look to him for advice and help, which he gives even when he knows it will lead nowhere.
That's it for plot, there really isn't one. This is a series of scenes and incidents, and some of the tales are masterpieces of humor. Gene Harrogate is possibly the stupidest man/boy in the annals of literature, and every scene with him promises laughs, inter-laced with sadness. McCarthy does that very well in this book: even as you're laughing, you can see the tragedy of these lives.

Some reviewers see traces here of Huckleberry Finn and Steinbeck's cast of characters in "Cannery Row" and "Tortilla Flats". I saw that too, but can also see that Suttree contains traces of fictional characters who came later, namely Cool Hand Luke and Sully from the pages of Richard Russo's "Nobody's Fool." The men who never fit in, but just want to live their own version of a good life. Lonely drifters that cause envy in the rest of us, because they dare to march to their own beat, and tell the rest of the world to go to Hell.

I've been reading a lot of McCarthy lately, and this one is different. Violence, yes, inhumanity, yes, but humor and friendship and compassion in people who have little else. Wonderful novel that I will read again.
Profile Image for Mike.
59 reviews37 followers
October 28, 2022
I love Cormac McCarthy. While Suttree was certainly not a let down, it did feel like there was a distance or surrealness to the characters and story. Speaking of story, there really isn't much there. The people are this book's story.

The book is written in mostly a deep southern slang. We've all strumbled upon a book without quotation marks (Saramego!) or maybe some unique spacing or syntax. A couple of times I had to backpeddle north on the page to confirm which character was speaking. Though this may sound awkward, it was a part of this world that Cormac created.

The book had a vibe and it was consistent. It was like being underwater. The reading experience had a steady feeling of dreariness. Mr. McCarthy can easily paint pictures in your head, and the pictures from Suttree were all in gray. The people don't have clear features, even up close. At a distance they're just a streaky, gray blur. In closer scenes, like inside Suttree's houseboat, I imagine the lighting would call for shadows and dark hues. It’s really the vibe of this world, this surrealness that Cormac created, that paints these dreary pictures.

Much respect to Mr. McCarthy for creating such a unique novel. It's not the first time he's absolutely slayed it! Good for him. It could be used as evidence in court for one of the reasons Cormac has such a diverse portfolio of brilliantness.
Profile Image for Blair.
130 reviews113 followers
August 22, 2019
'Suttree', Cormac McCarthy's 1979 Southern Gothic, semi-autobiographical novel was written over a twenty year span. Set in 1951 Knoxville, Cornelius Suttree, or 'Sut', has abandoned his wife and son and a life of privilege in favor of a life of squalor in a rundown houseboat on the Tennessee River.
Considered by many to be McCarthy's masterpiece, it is an extraordinary study of a fragmented man and the ragtag medley of drunkards, lowlifes, squatters, hookers, and ne'er-do-wells whose lives intersect with his.
With masterstrokes and a hefty thesaurus, McCarthy expertly sets the mood and tone of a dark, desperate wasteland of humanity along the river. One writer described it as a 'Tom Sawyer for the damned'
One gets the sense that with McCarthy's later works, that he held back and made them more accessible for a wider appeal, but with 'Suttree', he had not pulled any punches- this is the author in all his literary glory, with rich, vivid imagery, dark humour and beautiful poetic prose.
This is a master at the top of his game.
Profile Image for Lorna.
653 reviews352 followers
December 11, 2022
"Here at the creek mouth the fields run on to the river, the mud deltaed and baring out of its rich alluvial harbored bones and dead waste, a wrack of cratewood and condoms and fruitrinds. Old tins and jars and ruined household artifacts that rear from the fecal mire of the flats like landmarks in the trackless vales of dementia praecox. A world beyond all fantasy, malevolent and tactile and dissociate, the blown light-bulbs like shorn polyps semitranslucent and skullcolored bobbing blindly down and spectral eyes of oil and now and again the beached and stinking forms of foetal humans bloated like young birds mooneyed and bluish or stale gray. Beyond in the dark the river flows in a sluggard ooze toward southern seas, running down out of the rain flattened corn and petty crops and riverloam gardens of upcountry landkeepers, grating along like bonedust, afreight with the past, dreams dispersed in the water someway, nothing ever lost. Houseboats ride at their hawsers. The neap mud along the shore lies ribbed and slick like the cavernous flitch of some beast hugely foundered and beyond the country rolls away to the south to the mountains."

"The rest indeed is silence. It has begun to rain. Light summer rain, you can see it falling slant in the town lights. The river lies in a grail of quietude. Here from the bridge the world below seems a gift of simplicity. Curious, no more."

And so begins the last of the Southern Gothic novels by Cormac McCarthy, Suttree. Cornelius Bud Suttree is estranged from his well-to-do family and his wife and infant son. Suttree is a lawyer but has chosen to live by the Tennessee River on the outskirts of Knoxville in a recently purchased an old houseboat in the early 1950s. Suttree makes his way by fishing as he associates with a lot of the underbelly of those other "river rats" populating McAnally. This is a rambling story told over a period of four years in the life of Cornelius Suttree. There is no plot but we witness the slow but often violent drift of life as it takes its toll on all that are living on the fringes. I have long been a fan of Cormac McCarthy's beautiful prose but the sharp and often humorous dialogue keeps the book alive but it can't drown out the sense that the Tennessee River has become the slow voice of ruin. This is a very dark and bleak landscape that has been portrayed by McCarthy. There is a pervasive sadness in the life of Suttree as he drifts through his life unable to grasp where he should be and what he may have left behind, but often refelcting on his past.

"Suttree entered the vestibule and paused by a concrete seashell filled with sacred waters. He stood in the open door. He entered. Down the long linoleum aisle he went, and with care, tottered not once. A musty aftertaste of incense hung in the air. 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 inn his golden cup.

He looked about. Beyond the chancel gate three garish altars rose like gothic wedding cakes in carven marble. Crocketed and gargoyled, the steeples iced with rows of marble frogs ascending. Here a sallow plaster Christ. Agonized beneath his mecuriate crown. Spiked palms and riven belly, there beneath the stark ribs the cleanlipped spear-wound. His caved haunches loosely girdled, feet crossed and fastened by a single nail. To the left his mother. Mater alchimia in skyblue robes, she treads a snake with her chipped and naked feet. Before her on the altar gutter two small licks of flame in burgundy lampions. In the sculptor's art there always remains something unsaid, something waiting. This statuary will pass. This kingdom of fear and ashes."

This is a powerful book having been described aptly as coming at one as a horrifying flood, a poetic rush of debris with broken text, beautiful in part. It has been said that Suttree is like a "good, long scream in the ear." Indeed.
Profile Image for Cosimo.
408 reviews
November 10, 2019
Dove i vivi e i morti sono una cosa sola

“In piedi tra le foglie urlanti Suttree invocava il fulmine. Che scoppiò e tuonò e lui indicò il proprio cuore ottenebrato e lo supplicò per un po' di luce. Sennò riduci queste ossa in cenere. Si sedette contro un albero e guardò il temporale spostarsi sopra la città. Sono forse un mostro, ci sono dei mostri dentro di me?”

Sul silenzioso fiume Tennessee, Suttree è un naufrago che diserta la vita, un profugo in fuga dalla quiete di una esistenza programmata, che in un lungo viaggio dietro agli occhi bendati della notte oltrepassa il tempo per unirsi definitivamente a quelli che sono stati, agli amici diseredati e disperati, che vivono dell'ebbrezza e del tuono. C'è una breve scena con Suttree ubriaco in Chiesa che ricorda il suo passato e parla con il prete: una anticipazione piena di grazia e mistero del girovagare profetico della sua anima nella seconda metà del romanzo. Quando trova l'amore, la natura si oppone; non ci si può ribellare alla sventura, bisogna cedere alla potenza degli elementi. Quando costruisce il benessere, tutto svanisce, ogni verità annega nella follia. Il racconto inizia e finisce con un cadavere sconosciuto. Un suicida si getta nel fiume, il corpo di un vagabondo giace nel letto di Suttree. Tra ubriacature e risse, la violenza e la miseria trascinano via le esistenze dei suoi compagni, senza compromessi né incantesimi, in un'allucinazione che non perdona. Ossessionato dalla morte del gemello e orfano di un figlio, Suttree lascia la casa galleggiante e si rimette in viaggio, disilluso superstite che non si può più arrendere. Muovendosi tra Vicolo Cannery e Huckleberry Finn, McCarthy incarna la voce nomade e sotterranea della letteratura, che coinvolge tutto e interamente, e costruisce la sua odissea onirica e oltremondana; percorso da un daìmon metafisico e attratto da una mitologia dell'umiltà, evoca il destino di vagabondi, ladri, derelitti, paria, balordi, giocatori, ruffiani, sgualdrine e streghe in un canto epico e doloroso che si perde in un cielo di cenere.

“Un suo doppio, un controsuttree in quei boschi lo stava evitando e Suttree temeva che se la figura non si fosse alzata e dileguata costringendolo quindi di fronte a se stesso in quella foresta oscura non si sarebbe mai più ripreso né avrebbe ritrovato il senno e anzi avrebbe brancolato immemore e farneticante appresso a quel fantomatico clone, di sole in sole e per sempre attraverso un emisfero ostile”.
Profile Image for Caterina (on hiatus).
235 reviews90 followers
December 30, 2021
I’m so taken by this rich and strange, death-engorged yet life-affirming novel. I keep reading and re-reading the prose that sparkles, reeks, and overfloods like the Tennessee River, concealing and roiling to the surface all sorts of unsought detritus and treasure, living things and corpses, terror and beauty. It's a love-song, a hate song, a comedy of errors, a wailing lament for the outcast, the bottom-feeders, the refuse and the refusers of this world. An indictment of the outrageous suffering and ridiculous loneliness of humankind. It seems to ask, without necessarily answering: can someone who sees himself as coming into this “terrestrial hell” hind end fore in common with whales and bats, life forms meant for other mediums than the earth and having no affinity for it come to find in life not curse but grace?

Our man is Cornelius Suttree — called “Buddy.” Heart like a soot tree. Like the burnt armature of a lone desert tree incinerated by lightning encountered by the kid in McCarthy’s later novel Blood Meridian. A man reduced. Burnt first by bitter experiences with his father and the Catholic Church, later by his own failed attempts at marriage and fatherhood, his love of drink, his sensitivity to this world of woe. You do not want to know this man. You should be thankful if you don’t have anyone like him in your life. As a reader, I was far more sympathetic to his ex-wife, his angry mother-in-law, and even the prostitute who supported him (how much lower could a man sink than to allow himself to be supported by a woman’s sex labor?!) then rejected him than I was to him — and yet the miracle of the book is to make this pathetic good-for-nothing into an engaging character with an extremely engaging story. I’ve read that this could be a semi-autobiographical account of a young, alcoholic McCarthy before he laid down the bottle.

Suttree has rejected and fled from all to live on the Tennessee River as a fisherman. Some desire for life more real than what his family offered — and also, his father’s contempt — caused him to choose to work with his hands and cast his lot with the sorts of marginal folks that Jesus kept company with but society — especially his father — rejected: the wretched poor of all colors, drunks, criminals, homosexuals, inverts, whores — people so-called (and worse) in the crude vernacular of down-and-out 1950s Knoxville, Tennessee. To all these, Suttree is “buddy” —sometimes solicitous helper, sometimes reluctant goer-along, sometimes (especially with women) just taking what he can get. He said that he might have been a fisher of men in another time but these fish now seemed task enough for him.

Suttree is a well-built, good looking and intelligent young man from a formerly successful family whose advantages have been stolen from him by grief, depression, alcoholism, and some kind of personal failure of spirit. Nothing in his life is funny — but the novel is often funny in a grotesque, theatre-of-the-absurd way thanks to his literary foil Gene Harrogate, a dirt-poor country boy of unimpressive physique, whose naive high spirits seem utterly undaunted by the ghastliness of his circumstances, and whose cringe-inducing antics provide most of the book’s comic relief.

Another reviewer said s/he had never read such gorgeous prose about circumstances so degraded. The visual, physical prose seems to grow out of the lushly overgrown, obscenely polluted Tennessee River environment the way the prose in McCarthy’s western novels seems to belong to the extreme harshness and stark beauty of the American Southwest. The living world floats on a substrate of corpses. In the world of dreams the living commune with the dead. The degradation is of the earth itself as well as its wretched inhabitants, carried along as victims and co-degraders. And yet — somehow McCarthy’s intimate observation and precise description of every action, every living and dead thing, bestows an attention that lifts up, calls forth, makes worthy of notice, each thing and deed in its moment, its ceaseless passing. This is accomplished with language and vocabulary indeed so gorgeous and technically precise that I read much of it aloud so that it could live again as sound. From this vile river, McCarthy offers tiny, life-giving sips of potable water and even holy wine. As with the wandering Israelites in the biblical desert, what’s given is just enough to live on, no more.

Among all the literary allusions touching on McCarthy's favorite themes of identity, mortality, God and the Death of God, one source in particular jumps out at me, maybe because in past years I obsessively re-read Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury the way I'm now re-reading Suttree -- only I enjoy Suttree more. This book might even be McCarthy's personal answer to that book

One thing I love about literature is its ability to embrace contradiction, or seeming contradiction, within the same work, and this is something Cormac McCarthy seems to do especially well — particularly when it comes to religion and spirituality. It’s as if bitter anti-religion and the essence of true religion conceived and gave birth to Suttree. The reader wants to resolve the tension, but McCarthy seems instead to hold it open — as he also does later in the novels of The Border Trilogy and The Road.

Since the death of my father, who, unbeknownst to me, was a long-time Cormac McCarthy fan, I’ve been reading more of McCarthy’s works (a very McCarthyan thing to do -- communing with my dead father). What a surprise to find that this earlier, lesser-known novel is even better (to my mind) than his more famous, later works. The writing is more subtle, the character of Suttree portrayed more intimately and humanly, the personal interactions and conversations closer to life — and there’s a lot more humor. McCarthy does a fantastic job with the dialect and culture of his home state of Tennessee — as he did later in the Border Trilogy with his adopted dialect and culture of Texas and New Mexico. And although his arguably most acclaimed (and insanely, probably accurately, violent) Blood Meridian deals with larger themes, I much preferred reading Suttree. It’s as if this was the subject and place McCarthy knew and loved best, the novel into which he poured the most of his art, heart, and soul.
Profile Image for Steven Godin.
2,320 reviews2,195 followers
July 20, 2017
I will never think of watermelons the same way again!, I mean "the moonlight melonmounter", come on!, by McCarthy's standards this was a laugh riot compared to his other works, but still retains the dark themes of misery, misfits and poverty. I didn't think anything would topple the awesome "Blood Meridian", well this most definitely did. An epic Tennessee masterpiece.
Profile Image for Cody.
506 reviews176 followers
July 12, 2017
There is a certain variety of the species H. sapiens—more often than not White, almost exclusively male—who vehemently contend that Blood Meridian is not only Cormac McCarthy’s greatest book, but the greatest novel of all time. Sorry to say, gentlemen, that I disagree with you on both counts (but we’re still on for lifting, bros). As great as Meridian is, it pales to this White Male by several hectares to McCarthy’s true masterpiece, Suttree. (I won’t even address the second contention.)

Don’t let the pagination fool you. 471-pages isn’t long by anyone’s estimation, but McCarthy makes it seem at least twice its length (I mean this in a good way). The book is so goddamn languid, so redolent of the steady current of the the river at its center, that its miracles are revealed slowly, not in the spurting gore-fountains of McCarthy’s more famous bloodfeasts. Cornelius “Buddy” Suttree is one of the most beautifully and prismatically-rendered characters of the last 50 years. You know this man, his not uncommon faults, and his essential sweetness. You may even, like me, love him in some not small way for the incorruptibility of his soul.

I first came to McCarthy 22-years ago when he became assigned reading for friends in college. I was more than infatuated with his mastery of language at the time (how hard is it to impress a 16/17-year old?) It’s been quite a few years since I’d read anything by him, and even longer since I had touched his Tennessean novels. At this age, it’s an odd dichotomy: half of his prose is painfully lovely, the other laugh-out-loud funny. Seriously. His word selection is so fucking ridiculously arcane that I can only assume that, as a young man, the ‘Mac had to substitute a dictionary of natural biology for proper pornography when administering self-love. Plus, his idiosyncratic language—which no one can ape, nor should they try—has more contractions than a woman in the last throes of hard labor. (See angelclotted; butyljawed; approximately one-thousand other examples.)

But all of this is starting to seem like I don’t absolutely adore the novel. I do. It is work of staggering beauty; a masterpiece by any measure. This is the one McCarthy novel I’d freely recommend to anyone, especially those who, like me, see life as a Homeric odyssey we can consider successful if the gorgon remains insatiate for at least one more day. Sure there are instances of McViolence and McMisery, but there is a beam of light as stunning as true innocence penetrating the obliquity that betrays Suttree’s guileless core. For that I am thankful.
Profile Image for Nathan "N.R." Gaddis.
1,342 reviews1,322 followers
December 25, 2018
GVS: Who are some of your favorite writers?

DFW: You’re really wielding the old baton on this aren’t you? To be honest… my faves?

GVS: Yeah.

DFW: Ones that people don’t know all that well? Oh, that’s right this is a British magazine so they won’t have heard of a lot of these. Cormac McCarthy, have you read “Blood Meridian”? It’s literally the western to end all westerns. Probably the most horrifying book of this century, at least fiction. But it is also, this guy, I can’t figure out he gets away with it, he basically writes King James English, I mean, he practically uses Old English thou’s and thine’s and it comes off absolutely beautifully and unmannered and ungratuitous. He’s got another one called “Suttree,” God that one, God that would make a fantastic movie.

GVS: (perks up) What’s it called?

DFW: It’s called “Suttree.”

GVS: How do you spell that?

DFW: S-u-t-t-r-e-e. It came out, oh golly, mid 70s. But it’s about a down and out college educated man named Cornelius Suttree who has kind of abandoned everything to live in a houseboat in Knoxville, Tennessee in the late 40s and early 50s and all of his friends in his entire world are derelicts and retards and twisted people. It’s about four hundred pages of the most dense lapidary prose you can imagine about characters who are at the level of functional idiots and are drinking rot-gut. “Suttree” is the book that got him a MacArthur grant and he used the MacArthur to go to Mexico and do the research for “Blood Meridian.”

Somewhere else I've got it in my head this Ohrwurm that in a similar context he said something to the effect of "...and Suttree. Man, don't even ask."

Dave's copy is at the Ransom Center ::

Me? I've got NINE (is that right) more novels to read. I'm going to acquisition them in pb which will be a pleasure ; I can read them in the rain. [when one knows aforehand the 1st's are going to be waaaaay out of range.] [[don't give me a hard time. sometimes popular/movie authors are good too.]]
Profile Image for Edward  Goetz.
81 reviews16 followers
February 12, 2017
Loved it, but it is tough to get through. Very dense.

I really think this was the book where McCarthy transitioned from a very good writer to a great one. Not just because this was the last of his Appalachia books, you can also see where the writing changes to the signature style that sets him apart from other writers. The introduction is one example, as are the last 30 or so pages.

I finished this on my iPhone at my nephew's high school district finals wrestling tournament (in my defense, it was 6 hours and he only wrestled twice, though won both times). I was immediately reminded of how a great work is interpreted by different people in different ways. I wanted to grab the microphone to see if any English teachers were present so I could hold a small group discussion. Since that was not possible, I read some essays on the book on my phone instead.

No spoilers, but I generally disagreed with what I read. The key to my outlook on the book was in the last 30 pages. More importantly, certain interactions where the definitions of not often used words are critical. It's pure McCarthy in that unique word usage is a signature of his.

Suttree was a very satisfying book; one that makes you ready to move straight to its follow-up, Blood Meridian, except this one is not violent at all (by McCarthy's standard).

Profile Image for Read By RodKelly.
205 reviews753 followers
June 9, 2020
I labor helplessly after superlatives which may adduce the effulgent puissance of McCarthy’s riverine ode to Knoxville and overflow therein of sorrowchoked residents fateridden to a denizenship void of all tenderness, hardliving season on season lives truncate set against all unknowing and prosperity foreshortened.

I could have gone on reading this book forever...

Profile Image for Anand.
156 reviews
February 13, 2017
This big novel is quite interesting. I'd started this very early in 2016 or so. I was enchanted by the baroque and luxurious prose describing that grotesque spirit of the old Knoxville. Then i got a little bored. And put it down. Then came back to it. And was moved again. And remembered why I love Cormac McCarthy so much. And ended up loving the book again.

[will make a better review than this, I promise]

10:11 PM, 2/12/2017

- in the middle of re-reading Blood Meridian. In that I almost forgot about the verbal and structural torrent of Suttree. Compared to the bloody masterpiece that has a more evident design of its own - even with chapter headings and short lists of what happens in each other - Suttree, with an "order" and a progress, has a more fluid one.

The prose in both Suttree and Blood Meridian is extravagant, using the English language's abilities to include verbal and literary echoes from religion, literature, psychology, and nature. But Suttree has a wider view, almost Shakespearean and Dickensian (if not quite matching either Shakespeare's gift of deep characterization and personality or Dickens' vividness of caricature that extends to all), accommodating the whole underclass with a special compassion and a humor.

And the sexual presence in Suttree is more evident and put to interesting and grotesque uses, whereas Blood Meridian, in its very masculine and muscular environment, seems to not include sex much, except in hints of rape and violence, violence which is BM's central concern and core.

And of course, Cornelius Suttree, perhaps among the most characterized personage in McCarthy's universe, alongside Judge Holden. The kid does have some heroic presence, if Harold Bloom is to be believed, but it must be searched for, and the kid has no interiority and memory. Suttree is funny, shallow, deep, thoughtful, impulsive, and ultimately compassionate. I love him. Annoyed with him at times. Yet love him.

If McCarthy had a single masterpiece, it would possibly be Blood Meridian. But as Suttree proves, McCarthy has another masterpiece - similar yet very different at the same time.

The question may be: are you a Suttree or Blood Meridian person when it comes to McCarthy?
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,782 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.