Published in 1968, Outer Dark, is McCarthy's second novel. The black and pessimistic view of human nature, McCarthy's trademark, is there, and themes which emerge in later books are touched upon.
There are, however, some fairly rudimentary issues which kept me from being fully engaged with this book. For some reason McCarthy likes his characters to be as anonymous as possible, seldom referring to them by name. This, and the fact that he does not give us much in the way of physical description, made it very hard for me to picture Rinthy and Culla Holme and to care about them as people. Sure, we know that they live in the bleakest of circumstances (that’s pretty much a given for McCarthy’s characters) and that they are impoverished on all levels, but it is not until nearly half-way through the book that we learn the age of Rinthy. This matters. I do not necessarily need to know that Rinthy is nineteen years old, but it would have helped tremendously when trying to form an image of her, if I’d been given an indication of her age. Until that point, she could have been anywhere from thirteen to forty-five (roughly, the child-bearing years).
One of the other questions I had was why Rinthy suspected the tinker of taking the baby. Culla, himself, didn’t know this when he finally took her into the woods to see the spot where he claimed to have buried the body. After hearing an alligator in the first few pages, my initial concern, had I been Rinthy, would have been that the child had met a worse fate than being taken up by a passing tinker. I had further questions about the fate of the baby. Was it the burnt, one-eyed child that Culla eventually finds or not? If it was, how did the child wind up with these men? I’m all for a bit of ambiguity, but there are some questions that do need answers if the reader is to believe the story. Otherwise, it just seems conveniently coincidental.
McCarthy's work is known for its bleak and amoral view of human nature, and the seeds of his later masterpieces can be found in this early novel.