"Suttree" by Cormac McCarthy (1979)
"Supposing there be any soul to listen and you died tonight?
"They'd listen to my death.
"No final word?
"Last words are only words."
Cormac McCarthy has been discussed here many times. This is the eighth of his novels I've read, and the seventh to be reviewed here. You're welcome to check the sidebar for other reviews of his books. Suffice it to say that Blood Meridian remains my favorite.
Suttree is the story of Cornelius "Buddy" Suttree, a fisherman living in a houseboat on the banks of a river in Knoxville, Tennessee. Suttree lives a somewhat Bohemian existence fishing and collecting an odd assortment of friends. He spends time in and out of jail, and is content to live life in the moment, no matter how unpleasant that particular moment might be.
As a character Suttree is definitely among the most interesting of Cormac McCarthy's creations, probably because McCarthy modeled the character on himself. I don't think I've gotten such a sense of personhood from any of McCarthy's other books, and this was a nice change from his other, bleaker stories in which characters who are little more than ciphers ask existential questions and try not to die. Suttree felt like a living, breathing person, and his story - although seemingly random at times - felt very personal and very real. There are certainly McCarthy novels that end with a bigger bang, but the depth of characterization that went into Suttree gives it both a beating heart and an easy smile.
This aside, the first few pages of this book are no picnic. In his descriptions of Knoxville McCarthy pretty much outdoes himself in terms of obscurity, and those unable to skim will find themselves consulting the nearest dictionary. The good news is that after the first few sections it gets much easier; the bad news is that those first few sections require a well-lit, quiet room where you can think over what you're reading.
It should also be said that Suttree isn't without a sense of humor. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but the characters often find themselves in humorous situations, and these situations make the book much better.
All in all I'd recommend Suttree, but only if you've read McCarthy's other novels. It can be maddeningly verbose, and I was sometimes tempted to skip over certain sections. I didn't however, and I'm glad I saw it through to the end.
"Cotton" (a.k.a. "The Ballad of Lee Cotton") by Christopher Wilson (2005)
"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett (2009)
"The Story of My Teeth" by Valeria Luiselli (2015)*
"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (2016)
*Cormac McCarthy probably wouldn't like the last two books listed above. He has voiced a distaste for magical realism.