After learning that Cormac McCarthy had died, I went back to my squiggled-up copy of “Suttree,” which of all his novels is the one that moved me most. I first read it in the fall of 2002, right after being whalloped by “Blood Meridian,” and it’s never left me.
Here’s the title character, assessing the unforgettable Gene Harrogate, comically pitiable yet not only that:
Suttree looked at him. He was not lovable. This adenoidal leptosome that crouched above his bed like a wizened bird, his razorous shoulderblades, jutting in the thin cloth of his striped shirt. Sly, ratfaced, a convicted pervert of a botanical bent. Who would do worse when in the world again. Bet on it. But something in him so transparent, something vulnerable. As he looked back at Suttree with his almost witless equanimity his naked face was suddenly taken away in darkness.
Later, McCarthy writes of Suttree dreaming, in a passage rich with equisitely chosen nouns and verbs:
Down the nightworld of his starved mind cool scarves of fishes went veering, winnowing the salt shot that rose columnar toward rifts in the ice overhead. Sinking in a cold jade sea where bubbles shuttled toward the polar sun. Shoals of char ribboned off brightly and the ocean swell heaved with the world’s turning and he could see the sun go bleared and fade beyond the windswept panes of ice. Under a waste more mute than the moon’s face, where alabaster seabears cruise the salt and icegreen deeps.