Sunday 1 April 2018

The Sunset Limited

'The Sunset Limited' by Cormac McCarthy is a play, subtitled 'A novel in dramatic form'. It is a single scene, between two players, originally designated White and Black, but in the narration of this audiobook the characters is referred to as The Professor and The Black. The Black character is an evangelical Christian and ex-convict, and he has just saved the Professor from jumping in front of the Sunset Limited express train. It is a philosophical discussion on the nature of life, death, existence, religious belief. The Black feels he was sent to the spot to save the other man and as such has taken on some measure of responsibility for changing his mind. The Professor repeatedly says he has to leave, but does not, and allows himself to be distracted, to be nurtured, by the care and attention of the other man. The story has no axe to grind, it is not portraying one belief as more reasonable or natural than the other, it is just presenting the views of the two sides, and as such what it achieves is to show quite how wide the gulf is between them. The Professor explains quite accurately the nature of existential angst and how it makes life meaningless, and in a way I felt frustrated because it made it seem as if that is what atheism is; the idea that atheism is 'believing' in nothing. But the Black's belief is also presented as a simplistic acceptance of something else being 'in charge' of life, of knowing or understanding things as not being relevant to whether life was worth living. The Professors listens curiously to the Black's tales of his time in prison and how he came to find God. He seems quite unmoved by the gratuitous violence of his life, and it is he who manages to shock the other man with his description of the worst thing in his life. They part with neither having changed their view, but not without having had an impact on the other. It was interesting because it was not polemical but just a quiet exchange between two men, a real conversation where they learned about each other's lives. 

(Other reviews of Cormac McCarthy: The Road and All the Pretty Horses)

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