When I was younger, I had a very specific idea of what I was looking for in a story. I wanted an incomplete protagonist who, in the course of a journey or a battle, finds some missing element of himself and uses said element to put an end to the story. It’s a structure that you find again and again in fiction, cinema and, perhaps most nakedly, in video games, where progress is delineated in naked levels and forms of advancement.
When you’re still young in spirit, looking at the world this way is only natural. The year is broken up into semesters and seasons, small units of time within which you measure the progress of your skills and talent. The world looks different with every advancement.
I don’t think I would have understood Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Suttree’ if I was still possessed by my youth. It’s a book that ambles. It meanders. If by the end of the book ol’ Suttree has learned anything from his time fishing in his houseboat down by the river, he certainly doesn’t deign to impart that knowledge on the reader. His unchanged proclivity for blacking out for stretches of time casts doubt.
Moments of lyrical beauty flash by almost constantly, but much as in the world beyond the page, they require patience and careful attention to be gleaned from the rest of the dirty, cluttered milieu. ‘Blood Meridian’ was poetry about the depraved heights to which the human soul could aspire and ‘The Road’ was about the tremendous sadness it could bear when it is purpose-bound. ‘Suttree’ stands somewhere in between, at the same time tragic, bitter-sweet, funny, senseless and disturbing.
Just like life.