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The Sunset Limited: A Novel in Dramatic Form by Cormac McCarthy

December 20, 2013


This is a stage play in the form of a Socratic dialogue. Two men, named simply Black and White, have met—maybe by chance, maybe by providence—when Black saves White from throwing himself in front of a subway train. Now they sit in a New York apartment debating the big questions: What is the meaning of life? Is there a God?

McCarthy’s other novels have big themes, in some cases the same themes as this book. But in The Sunset Limited, McCarthy strips away everything else and writes his themes explicitly. This is not a subtle book. Its bones are exposed. Black and White debate the existence of God, with little background to the characters and minimal stage direction. It is heavy-handed by design. And true to the names of the characters, Black and White hold absolute positions that hardly budge throughout the play. So it’s less of a story than a container for an exploration of ideas. The believer vs the non-believer is not original, of course, but in the hands of McCarthy it has its moments. Some great lines of dialogue throughout, and a scorching monologue by White, the atheist, toward the end of the play.  I listened to it as an audiobook, and it is well-performed.

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