Suttree | Critical Review by Jim Crace

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Suttree.
This section contains 419 words
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Critical Review by Jim Crace

SOURCE: "Tribal Views," in New Statesman, Vol. 99, No. 2563, May 2, 1980, p. 682.

In the following excerpt, Crace discusses categorizing Suttree as a "tribal" work, and faults the novel for lacking an "overall social and allegorical context."

Cormac McCarthy's Big New Southern novel, Suttree, is also a fairly 'tribal' work if one can swallow the quaint dictionary definition of a tribe as 'a group of people in a primitive or barbarous stage of development'. His characters are city derelicts, rag pickers, possum hunters, and various junkyard angels who pass their days in bars (drinking Redtop beer and splo whisky) or in the work-house penitentiary (sipping moonshine). They break strangers' noses as frequently and with as little decorum as they break wind. Suttree, the keystone character of the novel, for all his college education and bouts of aristocratic Southern introspection, is no violet, either, when it comes to busting heads and cracking bottles.

Is this novel, then, a disguised pilgrimage to Faulkner's imaginary Yoknapatawpha County? Certainly McCarthy presents a similarly wide gallery of comic/brutal characters. But his bite is bigger than his chew: the string of anecdotes and incidents which comprise the novel lacks overall social and allegorical context and, because the plot is linear rather than integrated, it lacks design.

What is needed to tie this episodic package together is a distinctive and idiosyncratic narrative voice which links and advances the component tales unselfconsciously. What one, in fact, gets instead is swampy and often graceless prose:

They lifted him onto the deck where he lay in his wet seersucker suit and his lemoncolored socks, leering walleyed up at the workers with the hook in his face like some gross water homunculus taken in trolling that the light of God's day had stricken dead instanter.

Suttree cannot recover, it seems, from that spirit-sinking, tangled and pretentious evocation of Knoxville, Tennessee, in portentous italics ('The river lies in a grail of quietude….' etc, etc.) with which it opens. Such a pity—because the action and dialogue of Suttree (particularly those sections which recount the schemes of Harrogate, 'the moonlight melonmounter …—a convicted pervert of a botanical bent',) are crackling with invention, irreverence, and ill-mannered humour.

It may be that Cormac McCarthy does not make of Tennessee what Faulkner made of Mississippi. He does succeed, though, in doing for Knoxville what Genesis XIX has done for Sodom and Gomorrah.

Compared to these two new American novels much of the current British fiction seems insipid and self-consciously discursive. Its characters talk moonshine—they don't drink it.

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This section contains 419 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Jim Crace
Literature Criticism Series
Critical Review by Jim Crace from Literature Criticism Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.