I hardly know how to give this book the kind of review or credit it deserves. I fell in love with Cormac McCarthy's writing when I read The Road a few years ago, and went on from there to read and love his Border Trilogy: All The Pretty Horses; The Crossing; and Cities of The Plain. He writes in a stark and fragmented way with little or no punctuation and often only comes around to the point of the scene or chapter when the reader is starting to wonder who is doing the talking or what is even going on. If it sounds challenging, it is. But it's challenging in a way that is invigorating and heady and keeps me reading long into the night. His books are often criticized for being dark and violent and yes, at times they are. But it is through this darkness that the positive image takes shape. It reminds me of an artist who can create a visual image on canvas by filling in the shadows first.
McCarthy's stories are often peopled with flawed, reclusive characters on a journey in search of what isn't always clear. Humanity? Understanding? Universal connection? There's always an element of mystery surrounding these characters, which McCarthy mercifully does not overcompensate for with endless backstory in an attempt to bring us up to speed. He does occasionally go on some brief tangents, or his characters might reminisce about a past experience, but it's never a jarring remove from the flow of the story. People are who they are; he asks us to accept them at face value and to trust that he will take us through the story with all we will need to know. And it works. He certainly isn't one to spoon-feed his readers; there is an author/reader symbiosis going on here that I've grown to admire, appreciate and relish.
Suttree is the story of Cornelius Suttree, who has forsaken a life of privilege with his prominent family to live in a dilapidated houseboat on the Tennessee River near Knoxville. Remaining on the margins of the outcast community there - a brilliantly imagined collection of eccentrics, criminals, and squatters - he rises above the physical and human squalor with detachment, humour, and dignity. (back cover)
This was okay, but a little too After-School-Special for my liking. A young Quaker woman comes to America from England in 1850 and finds the life and traditions very strange and hard to accept, especially the slavery. She tries to find strength in her faith but falls short and realizes she will have to think and act for herself. Although this book is ostensibly about the underground railroad, sewing seemed to play more of a roll with lengthy descriptions of sewing techniques and quilt patterns and bonnet making and I'm just not that crafty to follow or care. Harbouring runaway slaves is a much more interesting and compelling story but in this case seems to have been beside the point - it might just as well have been called The Last Quilter.
Anyway. The story and writing is good enough (I listened to this as an audiobook) but I would classify this as more YA. There really wasn't anything more challenging about it.
3 out of 5 stars?
Every book is an image of solitude. It is a tangible object that one can pick up, put down, open, and close, and its words represent many months, if not many years, of one man's solitude, so that each word one reads in a book one might say to himself that he is confronting a particle of that solitude.
~Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude
I know! I finally took the plunge and purchased a brand new copy of War and Peace translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky, the same folks who did the version of Anna Karenina I read and LOVED last year. Will this be the same transcendent experience? One can only hope.
Most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what's human and magical that still live and grow despite the times' darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it'd find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.
This shortsighted notion that "the only thing that will save you from a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun", as famously quoted by the NRA prez himself, has so many holes in it I can barely believe it was said by someone over the age of twelve. It's a shoot first/think later, vigilante mentality that leaves all sorts of room for mistakes, accidents and collateral damage. According to the NRA, though, it's the price of 'freedom', whatever that means anymore. We're certainly not free to just drive a car whenever we feel like it. Drivers are required to first go through testing and licensing and insurance before they can get behind a wheel. Why is AAA not up in arms over this? It punishes law-abiding citizens! No one is free to write their own medical prescriptions, or marry, or build a house, or fly an airplane, etc etc etc, without some form of certification or registration involved. It should not be such a leap for guns to be treated with the same sober respect. And I don't buy the argument that 'criminals don't follow the law'. Of course they don't. That's the whole nature of the criminal. Laws are still a necessary part of civil society, though.
When you flood the place with guns so that everyone has unrestricted access to them, there will of course be plenty of armed bad guys to shoot. Why would the NRA want to limit that which their very existence requires? The pro-gun lobby is like a teenager with a superhero complex. It's comic-book logic based on paranoid fear-mongering and nothing close to common sense. One look at images from last weekend's NRA convention in Houston and you'll see something more akin to a rock concert than anything remotely rational. Entertainment is what it was. Entertainment with the sole purpose of exploring the most efficient ways of killing people.
Most people would agree that a thoughtful and mature society, as still imperfect as it may be, is the best kind of society to live in. So why, then, not actively work towards creating and supporting that kind of environment instead of an hysterical one that fosters a fear-based war zone. If the pro-gun lobby were to spend their budget promoting literacy, say, or tackling poverty, just think . . .