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  • Writer's pictureClay Anderson

Review of Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark is a haunting and deeply disturbing novel that explores the darker aspects of human nature and the harsh realities of life in the southern Appalachian mountains. Published in 1968, it is McCarthy’s second novel and one that showcases his unique writing style and his ability to create vivid and unforgettable characters.

The novel tells the story of Culla Holme, a young man who lives with his sister Rinthy in an isolated cabin in the Appalachian mountains. At the beginning of the novel, Rinthy gives birth to a child that is the result of an incestuous relationship with Culla. Horrified by the idea of raising a possibly deformed child, Culla sets out to abandon the infant in the woods. However, his plans are disrupted when he discovers that the child and Rinthy have disappeared, and he is forced to embark on a perilous journey to find her.

The novel is a dark and disturbing tale that explores themes of isolation, violence, and the harsh realities of life in a world that is often cruel and unforgiving. McCarthy’s writing style is spare and minimalist, but he has a remarkable ability to create vivid and unforgettable characters that stay with the reader long after the novel has ended.

At its core, Outer Dark is a novel about the darkness that lies within the human soul. McCarthy also explores the themes of sin, guilt, and redemption, and he does so with a brutal honesty that is both shocking and compelling. The book is a meditation on the nature of evil and the ways in which it can corrupt even the most innocent of people.

One of the most striking aspects of the book is its portrayal of the natural world. McCarthy's descriptions of the mountains and forests of Tennessee are vivid and poetic, and he uses the landscape to underscore the novel's themes of darkness and despair. The natural world is portrayed as a place of beauty and terror, a place where life and death are inextricably linked.

Also, McCarthy's writing style is spare and poetic, and he has a gift for creating vivid and memorable characters. His prose is often compared to that of William Faulkner, and it is easy to see why. Like Faulkner, McCarthy is a master of the Southern Gothic genre, and he uses his writing to explore the darkest corners of the human psyche.

One of the most impressive aspects of McCarthy's writing is his ability to create a sense of tension and unease. Throughout the book, there is a sense of impending doom that hangs over the characters, and the reader is constantly on edge, waiting for something terrible to happen. This tension is created through McCarthy's use of language, which is spare and precise, and his ability to create a sense of atmosphere that is both eerie and unsettling.

One of the most striking aspects of the novel is its portrayal of the rural American South in the early 20th century. McCarthy’s depiction of the harsh and unforgiving landscape is vivid and evocative, and he captures the isolation and bleakness of life in the mountains with great skill. The novel is set in a time when the world was changing rapidly, and the old ways of life were being swept away by the forces of modernity. However, the characters in the novel are trapped in a world that has not yet caught up with these changes, and they are struggling to survive in a world that is rapidly disappearing.

The novel is also notable for its exploration of violence and its effects on the human psyche. The characters in the novel are often brutal and violent, and their actions have far-reaching consequences that ripple through the entire community. McCarthy does not shy away from depicting the violence in all its brutality, and the novel is often difficult to read because of this. However, this unflinching portrayal of violence is also what makes the novel so powerful and unforgettable.

Another notable aspect of the novel is its exploration of the relationship between siblings. Culla and Rinthy have a complex and fraught relationship that is shaped by their isolation and the harsh realities of their lives. They are often at odds with each other, and their relationship is further complicated by the fact that they were in an  incestuous relationship. This relationship is explored in great detail throughout the novel, and it adds a layer of complexity and depth to the characters that is rare in modern literature.

Overall, Outer Dark is a powerful and unforgettable novel that explores some of the darkest aspects of human nature. McCarthy’s spare and minimalist writing style is perfectly suited to the bleak and unforgiving landscape of the rural American South, and his ability to create vivid and unforgettable characters is unparalleled. The novel is not an easy read, but it is a rewarding one, and it is a testament to the power of great literature to explore the complexities of the human experience. If you are a fan of Cormac McCarthy or if you are interested in exploring the darker side of human nature, then Outer Dark is a novel that you should not miss.

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