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Cormac McCarthy: Outer Dark

Like his first novel, McCarthy’s second novel is set in rural Tennessee. Rinthy Holme goes through a long labour to have a baby, whose father is her brother Culla. After the birth, Culla leaves the baby to die in the forest, telling his sister that it died of natural causes. However, the baby is not dead as a travelling tinker finds it. Nor does Rinthy believe her brother, feeling that he is lying to her, so she sets off looking for the baby. Culla later leaves home himself, perhaps to look for his sister, perhaps not. We quickly move into a sort of Greek myth of horror and retribution as Culla is followed round by a band of unsavory characters who commit a variety of unsavory deeds, some of which Culla is blamed for, while Rinthy keeps on looking for her baby, her journey mildly better than her brother’s but still tainted by death. Once again, McCarthy tells a fairly simple story in a manner that elevates it well above the ordinary, making it into a fable along the lines of Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor and, as such, essential reading.

Publishing history

First published 1968 by Random House