Cormac McCarthy 's fourth novel, Suttree (1979), left behind the
Faulkner-ian style and topics of his early novels and ventured into
a beat-like journey of the underworld. Like with much beat literature, the
"novel" is really only a collection of short stories. There is minimal effort
to penetrate the psychology of the characters, including the very protagonist.
The novel is, basically, a "mood piece", a fresco of a community of outcasts,
and little more. McCarthy's language ranges from the sub-literate (particularly
in the dialogues) to the highly poetic (particularly in his descriptions of
city decadence). Basically, the real character of the novel is the location
itself, this fantastic world nested between the city and the river.
Cornelius "Buddy" Suttree lives on a houseboat by the river,
and makes a living out of fishing.
His neighbors are mostly bums, thieves, drunkards.
His uncle comes to visit him and we learn that Suttree has just been released
A flashback tells how a teenager, Gene Harrogate, was caught by a farmer
having sex with watermelons, shot and arrested. He ended up in the same prison
with Suttree. Now that he has also been released from prison, Harrogate
looks for and finds Suttree, and decides to settle in the same area.
Jim "J-Bone" tells him that his son is dead. Suttree travels to the funeral,
but the wife he abandoned doesn't want him there. He is expelled from the town.
Back to his friends, he gets drunk and in a fight. That seems to be the routine
of his life.
Harrogate comes up with different ways to cheat the government, but he is too
clumsy to succeed. First he
makes money by collecting rewards for dead bats, but eventually gets caught.
Then he discovers a way to
crawl underground to the bank's vault, and tries to blow up the wall, but
only manages to hurt himself.
Leonard, another friend of Suttree, cheats the government by keeping his
dead father hidden in the house, so the government keeps sending the cheque
for him. Suttree helps him dump the body in the river.
One day he meets a family. He does business with the father, and makes love
to one of the daughters. He and her are stuck for days during a major storm.
Eventually, the cliff collapses and she is killed.
Things change, and never for the better. Friends die or disperse.
Daddy Watson, a railway worker, disappears.
Billy Callahan is murdered.
J-Bone moves elsewhere.
Suttree moves to town and rents a room. He hooks up with a prostitute, who
trusts him with her money.
More of his friends die.
The only that doesn't change is Harrogate's attempts at cheating the government:
this time he found a way to steal money from telephone boots. It works for
a while, but eventually he is arrested.
Suttree visits his aunt Alice who lives in a madhouse.
He gets sick with typhoid fever and almost dies.
When he recovers and is released from the hospital, he finds that the city
is building new roads in his neighborhood.
He finds a dead body in his houseboat.
So he decides it is time to take a bus and relocate somewhere else.
"All The Pretty Horses" (1992), the first installment of the border trilogy,
narrates the picaresque adventures of a runaway teenager. McCarthy indulges in
his orphaned sentences that begin with ambiguous pronouns and that can sometimes
be annoying. However, his hyper-realistic descriptions of situations and
actions is captivating (in fact, most of the book is the detailed minute
description of what is happening rather than the "happening" itself). These
feel like 360-degree takes by a movie camera. The cowboy slang and rhythm is
evoked by the same narrating voice that basically has a hidden psychological
John Grady, a 16-years old Texas cowboy, would like to get his grandfather's
ranch but the old man bequeathed it to "her" (his mother?) and she, who lives
in the city, wants none of the prairie life. His mother and his father
separated when he was still a child. John Grady was raised by Mexican servants
and speaks fluent Spanish. Now his mother is an actress and John
Grady attends one of her theater performances. His father would like John
Grady to reconnect with his mother but John Grady doesn't seem to care. In fact,
John Grady and his cousin Rawlins have decided to leave town.
His former girlfriend
Mary Catherine would like to remain friends but he is bitter towards her.
She is the only one who knows that he is leaving.
JG and Rawlins ride their horses out of town and head for Mexico. Along the way
another teenager, Blevins, joins them, riding a much better horse and with no
real explanation. They cross into Mexico. Blevins, who is terrified by lighting
(that has struck several of his family members), loses his horse, his clothes
and his pistol in a storm. JG and, reluctantly, Rawlins help him steal back
his horse from the Mexicans who found it. Chased by a posse, the three decide
to part ways. JG and Rawlins reach a ranch and get hired as cowboys, mainly
attracted by a cute girl, Alejandra, the daughter of the landowner.
Her father likes JG and promotes him, unaware that JG has fallen in love with
Alejandra, who mostly lives in the city with her mother but likes the ranch
better. She is rich and goes to a fancy school, and her grandaunt Alfonsa warns
JG not to tarnish her reputation. JG seems to have no chances and suffers,
but instead the girl suddenly gives herself to him.
Then one night the Mexican police arrest JG and Rawlins. They are taken to
a jail where the childish Blevins is detained too: he ended up killing a police
officer while attempting to recover his pistol, and has been in jail for a long
time. The captain interrogates them and does not believe their story. The three
prisoners are taken to an isolated place and then the captain allows the brother
of the slain officer to summarily execute Blevins. JR and Rawlins are taken
to a prison in which anarchy reigns. They are beaten on a daily basis.
One of the prisoners, Perez, rules the camp: he lives in a house with a butler
and has the power to gain a prisoner's freedom. JG and Rawlins refuse to bribe
him and Rawlins is stabbed and taken away. Left to fend for himself, JG buys
a knife with his last pesos and uses it to defend himself when attacked by a
hired assassin. JG kills the assailant but is wounded badly. Surprisingly,
he is helped by Perez himself, who is also a philosopher of sorts. Days later
JG is released and surprised to find Rawlins in good health and with money:
it turns out that the grandaunt has paid for their freedom and of course it
must have been because of Alejandra's desire to save JG. Rawlins has had enough
and heads home, across the border, but JG is determined to find out about
Alejandra's feelings for him and, if nothing else, to get back his horse and Rawlins' horse.
When he reaches the ranch, the grandaunt is ready to confront him. She paid
for his freedom but only to please Alejandra and in return Alejandra had to
promise not to marry him. In a long ten-page detour the 73-years old woman
narrates how she befriended the democratic revolutionaries in her youth and
survived the bloody military coup only because her rich father sent her to study in England. (This detour seems to serve the only purpose to show that McCarthy
can write in elegant English when he wants to and not only in cowboy slang).
JG is stubborn as usual: he phones Alejandra and talks into meeting her at
a train station.
Alejandra tells him that the grandaunt guessed their love story and then
Alejandra preempted her and directly told her father. Unbeknownst to JG and
Rawlins, her father had already interceded with the police to save JG
and Rawlins from the investigation, but now he let the police arrest them.
Alejandra is devastated because she feels that her father stopped loving her.
JG swears eternal love and they make love in a hotel but the following day
she chooses her family over him. He walks her to the train station.
Now JG heads back to the town where they were taken by the police. Armed with
his pistol, he kidnaps the captain who had Blevins killed and forces him to
reveal where his horse is. JG enters the ranch holding the captain hostage
and leaves it with all three horses, but also bleeding profusely after
being shot by one of the rancher's men. Still holding the captain hostage,
JG flees chased by six riders. (The escape is told in minute details).
He burns his wound and even straightens the dislocated shoulder of the captain.
Three men get him one night but they are only interested in the
captain (bandits? revolutionaries?) and let JG go with his horses.
JG finally crosses the river back into Texas. He is mistaken for a horse thief
but a good judge believes his story. JG tries to find the owner of Blevins'
horse but to no avail. He even visits a pastor named Blevins who runs a radio
show and has gained a reputation for miracles. Finally, he arrives at
Rawlins' ranch and delivers the horse to his friend. Rawlins tells him that
his dead died. JG doesn't want to see his mother, doesn't feel like this is
his country anymore. He only visits the tomb of the old Mexican servant who
raised three generations of his family and then rides into the red hot
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