I failed in my first attempt at reading Suttree, I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was my own state of mind at the time - I found it depressing. But I'd read all of McCarthy's other work and I picked up Suttree again after a two-year break.
In this novel, more than any of his others, McCarthy seems to work in the way a music composer does. McCarthy's hook, his chorus, is the Tennessee River. Again and again he describes it in all its seasons and moods to the extent I found it to be the main character - bewitching Suttree too, I think. He seems always drawn back to the river's indiscriminate flow as though it is the thread of life itself. Sometimes it provides him with a living, other times it threatens, impersonally, to freeze him to death or suck him under. The river delivers him friends and enemies then moves remorselessly on.
Suttree prefers the daily uncertainty of not knowing whether he will eat, freeze, fry, sink, be attacked, seduced, befriended or bereaved to the standard 'security' most of us recognise. We call it our life though, ironically, Suttree, who never existed, knows better than any what it means to live.