A startling encounter on a New York subway platform leads two strangers to a run-down tenement where a life or death decision must be made.
In that small apartment, “Black” and “White,” as the two men are known, begin a conversation that leads each back through his own history, mining the origins of two fundamentally opposing world views. White is a professor whose seemingly enviable existence of relative ease has left him nonetheless in despair. Black, an ex-con and ex-addict, is the more hopeful of the men–though he is just as desperate to convince White of the power of faith as White is desperate to deny it.
Their aim is no less than this: to discover the meaning of life.
Deft, spare, and full of artful tension, The Sunset Limited is a beautifully crafted, consistently thought-provoking, and deceptively intimate work by one of the most insightful writers of our time.
Instead of McCarthy's usual setting along the Texas-New Mexico-northern Mexico border, this "novel in dramatic form" takes place in a project tenement building in a black ghetto in New York City. White and Black are the only two characters, and those the only names they are given. A traumatic yet unrevealed event on the subway brings two strangers together, and they begin a conversation that becomes a dark and poetic meditation on the why of existence. The white man is a professor whose privileged life spent reading, studying, and thinking has left him yearning for death as the only way out of a world ruled by pain and futility: "Suffering," he says, "and human destiny are the same thing The shadow of the axe hangs over every joy." The black man is big and imposing, a former convict and drug addict who is now a fervent Christian. Living in the projects, he offers his apartment as asylum to junkies at the end of their rope. Black, for all the pain he sees in the world, has hope. The sparse and minimal setting, created through McCarthy's careful, pointed craftsmanship, consistently fills this bizarre yet profound conversation with energy, tension, and ultimately a shocking revelation.