Outer Dark, by Cormac McCarthy


Outer Dark coverLet me get this out of the way: I don’t quite know how to review a book by Cormac McCarthy.  When someone’s been called America’s greatest living author (or something to that effect), it becomes more difficult to say he sucks.  Luckily, I don’t feel that way, but I haven’t read all of his books so there’s always a chance.


Most recently, I tackled Outer Dark, McCarthy’s second novel.  Published in 1968, it combines something I love (violence) with something I hate (stupid people).  Plot reads as follows: Culla knocks up his sister Rinthy and then leaves the baby in woods to die.  The baby is picked up by a traveling junk dealer, only to be eventually killed in a gruesome way by a trio of truly horrid men who flit in and out of the narrative like the Violence Fairies.  Rinthy, seeing through Culla’s clever ruse, goes looking for the baby and meets several kind people along the way.  Culla goes looking for Rinthy and meets with hard luck and the Violence Fairies.


In a way, Outer Dark is the perfect novel for someone who’s heard about how great McCarthy is and wants to try his work out.  I say this because it’s short (bonus!) and relatively easy to decipher.  Culla is guilty of several bad deeds, and therefore meets with nothing but trouble in his quest to find his sister.  Rinthy is sweet and innocent and a bit dim and therefore encounters kind folks eager to help her in whatever way they can.  Violence is brutal and arbitrary and carried out by men you will rarely see coming and who will eventually steal your boots.  It’s not full of lush descriptions and historical allusions like Blood Meridian, although McCarthy does try to emulate local dialects as organically as possible and that leads to a few head-scratching, “What in the hell are they saying?” moments.


I can’t say that I fully enjoyed my time spent reading Outer Dark, and I can’t point to one specific reason.  Culla and Rinthy are dumb enough that we’re probably meant to assume they’re products of inbreeding themselves.  Their adventures aren’t really compelling enough to make up for this, and the routes they take toward their respective goals are so haphazard that I was never sure if I wanted them to succeed.  The people Culla meets are too often content to assume he’s a thief (he is) and a murderer (he’s not) and therefore conflict comes his way much as it would were he in a bad sitcom.


Most importantly, I didn’t find Outer Dark all that satisfying of a read, and this is a problem I’ve had with other novels by this author.  When I closed the book, I felt good for having read another in the McCarthy canon, but I wasn’t all that pleased with the book’s resolution.  Although I disliked Rinthy, I could see how desperate she was to get her baby back and how much in love she was with him (or at least the idea of him).  I wanted this sad, dense character to find some measure of satisfaction in life.  In the end, however, we were both left wanting.


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2 Responses to “Outer Dark, by Cormac McCarthy”

  1. Southpaw Says:

    Violence fairies! That’s great. I’ve never read Outer Dark but I will agree with you about McCarthy. I enjoy while I am reading and he certainly produces a page turner but I’ve never as enthralled at the end as others would lead me to believe I should be. The Road for instance is one that I found ok but everyone else really connected to — so much, in fact, that I am resolved to re-read it more slowly.

  2. Pseudonym Says:

    I enjoyed The Road quite a bit, and thought it ended really the only way it could have. I would’ve liked for there to have been some hope at the end, but I’ve learned that ol’ Cormac isn’t big on that particular emotion. I wouldn’t say I connected with it on a deeper level than “Hey, that’s a really good book!”, but then again I’m shallow.

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