Jack’s Naughty Bits: Cormac McCarthy, Suttree

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Jack's Naughty Bits

McCarthy is easily among my favorite living writers. Virtually every sentence of each
of his books echoes with the sadness and serenity of an absolute understanding of the human
condition. His fourth novel, Suttree, is perhaps his best: its title character is as
familiar to me as kin. Yet his portrayal is oblique: McCarthy sculpts him meticulously in the
negative space of his inaction, outlines him in the relief of his laconism. Each
morning, as Suttree pushes off in his delapidated skiff to rebait his riverbottom fishing lines,
he is a slow moving Charon, shuttling to and from the shores of the dead in the innermost
territories of us all.


The scene that I’ve selected, however, is of a much lighter nature. It was a little tricky
to find a sufficiently naughty bit in Suttree because McCarthy’s characters are all
loners and he typically spills less ink developing women characters than describing whisky.
Nonetheless, when he does turn his eye to sex, McCarthy is as good as ever. The scene below
details the unique love interest of a vagrant teenage nightprowler. I think you’ll agree he
provides a curious addition to the range of surrogates available to the desperate. I’ll give you
a hint: it’s softer than a beefsteak, gentler than a vacuum.

* * *

From Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree

He could see the house beyond in darkness against the starblown sky and the barn behind it
rising outsize and stark. He was going along the troughs in the heavy turned earth, past
cornrows, into the open field where the melons lay.


There were no more than a quarteracre of them, a long black rectangle set along the edge
of the corn in which by the meager starlight of late summer he could see the plump forms supine
and dormant in spaced rows. He listened. In the distance a dog was yapping. He knelt in the
rich and steaming earth, his nostrils filled with the winey smell of ruptured melons. To steal
upon them where they lay, his hand on their warm ripe shapes, his pocketknife open. He
lifted one, a pale jade underbelly turning up. He pulled it between his knees and sank the blade
of the knife into its nether end. He shucked off the straps of his overalls. His pale shanks
kneeling in a pool of denim.

You ain’t goin to believe this.

Knowing you for a born liar I most probably won’t.

Somebody has been fuckin my watermelons.


I said somebody has been . . .

I don’t want to hear it.

Looky here.

And here.

They went along the outer row of the melonpatch. He stopped to nudge a melon with his toe.
Yellowjackets snarled in the seepage.


What you aim to do?


Hell, I don’t know. It’s about too late to do anything. He’s damn near screwed the
whole patch. I don’t see why he couldn’t of stuck to just one. Or a few.


I reckon he didn’t take to the idea of gettin bit on the head of his pecker by one of them
waspers. I suppose he showed good judgement there.

© 1979 Cormac McCarthy