Ever since I stumbled on The Road (2006) by Cormac McCarthy, I've tried to read at least one book by him a year. His writing is often so intense and so disturbing that I can't handle much more than one at a time. Then I usually need some time to recover and digest. I think I only have a couple left at this point, so I picked up The Sunset Limited, a novel in dramatic form (2006) for this year.
This work is very different from the previous books I've read from McCarthy. Written as a play that consists of one long scene between two characters--one simply labeled "white" and the other "black," the entire book takes place sitting at the table in a rundown tenement. The black character is an ex-con and ex-addict who has turned to Jesus and faith while the white character is a professor who has given up on life, hope and humanity.
I came into this novel a little concerned what McCarthy was going to do with this setting and how he would avoid falling into cliches--the poor black man shows the rich, ungrateful white man the real meaning of life. Of course, I also knew better than to think that McCarthy would turn his work into a kitschy, feel-good movie.I think it is the specifics of their arguments and the force of their convictions that allow the characters to become more than just "black" and "white." Indeed, much of the book is more about their philosophical arguments and view points than the characters themselves--although I guess their past does inform their current beliefs. Of course, McCarthy doesn't leave us with a simple resolution. The two men's viewpoints cannot be compromised and they cannot be reconciled.
The black man, arguing for life and hope focuses on brotherhood and community--that the darkness the white man feels is inside of him. The white man responds, "If you could banish the fear of death from men's hearts they wouldn't live a day. Who would want this nightmare if not for fear of the next? The shadow of the axe hangs over every joy. Every road ends in death. Or worse. Every friendship. Every love. Torment, betrayal, loss, suffering, pain, age, indignity, and hideous lingering illness. All with a single conclusion. For you and for every one and everything that you have chosen to care for." (137-138)
And once again it's time for me to digest and recover.