Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree keeps its cards close to the chest. We get glimpses into Cornelius Suttree’s past. He is the son of a prominent Knoxville family. He is college educated. But something has gone wrong with Suttree. He left a wife and a son. He turned his back on his heritage, and lives a marginal existence on a broken down houseboat, among vagrants, drifters, and the poor, fishing in the Tennessee River for a bare subsistence living. He drinks, but not so much to be classified as an alcoholic. So why is Suttree in such bad shape?
We don’t know. From the flow of the novel, and from what McCarthy does not tell us, it appears Suttree has all but given up on the world he grew up in, but does not know how to replace it with a grander vision of existence. He drifts from one experience to the next, with no expectation that life will get better. Life is just an endless succession of days, which will end with death.
Yet the end, not revealed here, has the kernel of redemption in it. Suttree, who is sometimes painted in extremely faint Christ-like colors, is not to be completely discounted. He is down, but not out. He may rise again.