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The Sunset Limited by Cormac McCarthy
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's review
May 14, 2009

bookshelves: dave-s-picks
Read in October, 2006

Okay, so it's dark. But that's what you get when you dig. Prolific and widely heralded novelist Cormac McCarthy has been digging for decades now, and, following in the moist, shadowy ruts of his recent novel The Road, his new book, The Sunset Limited, also refuses to merely skim the topsoil. Without a moment’s hesitation, McCarthy delves into his weird plain-language profundity, grinding steadily at the resin surface of the world's oldest and toughest question of “why exactly are we here?” He does so in a spare and poignant way, using only a dialogue between two nameless foil characters: an exhausted, depressive professor and a humble, slow-talking ex-con, who, in their quests for a middle ground may just inadvertantly carve out a canyon too wide to shout across. I like a book like this because it makes me think.

They say an unexamined life is not worth living, and McCarthy's words—bearing the weight of Shakespeare and the immediacy of Updike—always compel examination. While I do recommend sequentially sandwiching this book with a couple of toes-in-the-sand, pastel-colored novels, I still consider it essential reading and required contemplation. Just embrace it. Read it sitting on a damp tile floor in low light with a storm outside. Read it in a house of mirrors. Read it on an empty screeching subway car in the middle of the night as the train jerks and the lights flicker. Alone and silently, begin. It's a very short book, but its effect as a catalyst to commonly ducked-under introspection can last as long as you'd want, or as long as you'd let it. McCarthy, you'll find, has somehow fitted this, the slimmest book on the shelf, with a caliber wide enough for a life.


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