Friday, July 22, 2011
THE SUNSET LIMITED by Cormac McCarthy
The Sunset Limited is that rare Cormac McCarthy work that doesn't go far enough. Ol' Cormac is usually dependably excessive, to say the least. Blood Meridian is the most surrealistically excessive Western in our literature, just as Moby Dick is our most surrealistically excessive sea story. The unlimited pneumatic mayhem of No Country For Old Men (or for any other men--or women--except Anton Chigurh) served to indict our entire culture, but even that wasn't enough for McCarthy. Not content with laying waste to a part of a part of the country, he let the entire world have it in The Road. And sometime in between these works, he crafted this odd, unplatonic dialogue that he calls 'a novel in dramatic form.' Well...Sorry, Charlie, but it's nothing of the kind. Judged as a novel, The Sunset Limited is a thin, weak concoction. It comes off much better when we read it as what it really and obviously is, a play. It's a promising script for a potentially great dramatic production, provided the actors and directors play it with minimal solemnity and maximum irony (there is much dark comedy here, even a Beckettian note in White's frequent attempts to leave the room). The biggest problem is that McCarthy fails to take these two men far enough into themselves. Neither recounts the worst thing he has ever done, and neither presses the other to do so. This final reticence may reflect well upon the two men's humanity, their mutual respect and capacity for empathy, but it robs the play of a potentially shattering dramatic crescendo, a pair of glorious, Sam Shepard-style titanic monologues in which Black and White recount their worst moments. As it is, the text is haunted by these lacunae, the monologues that never were. Leaving them out is an entirely defensible artistic choice, but I don't think it was the correct one in this case.