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The Way It Was - Southern-Style

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The Orchard Keeper, by Cormac McCarthy

You may become puzzled trying to categorize McCarthy’s writing style, but you won’t find it hard at all to place it in the canon of Southern literature. McCarthy eventually moved on from this subset, his most famous books taking place in the Southwest U.S., and taking on a dystopian cant, but his early works, such as “The Orchard Keeper,” will find its place alongside Flannery O’Connor’s and William Faulkner’s, if they haven't already.

This story takes place in the early 1930s in rural Tennessee and is, rather than a story with a traditional arc, a series of vignettes concerning a young boy, John Wesley Rattner, A bootlegger named Marion Sylder, and an old man, Ather (Arthur), who lives a life as close to the land as is humanly possible. McCarthy’s project here is exactly that - the ability of humanity to live much as the animals, taking little save the necessaries to subsist, and leaving little more than footprints.

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The charm of McCarthy’s work here is in three writerly things:

1 - His dialogue, which records the Southern dialect as exactly as is possible, a dialogue that has remained largely the same in the South’s rural areas.

2 - His narrative depiction of the Tennessee wilds, which will engage your senses at every level.

3 - His slightly overdone voice, which is near-poetry.

It may come as no surprise, but McCarthy praises this lifestyle. It’s unvarnished in its violence and its self-destructive individualism, but his depictions of it overflow with love, respect, and admiration. It’s a book about the mutual embrace between nature and humanity, and it’s one of the best pieces of Southern writing in decades.

My rating 19 of 20 stars

 

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