Yup, that’s what McCarthy ‘subtitles’ The Sunset Limited – a novel in dramatic form.
What does this mean?!
(Please note the exclamation point meant to indicate this is not merely a question that I plan to answer for you below. It is an answer I supremely want to answer to.)
A novel is a long narrative in literary prose. Additional merits may be plot, constuction of narrative, character study, and use of language. Good stuff.
According to Freytag, the five parts to dramatic structure are: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouemont/resolution.
But is this the dramatic form McCarthy is referencing?
I wonder if he is referencing the major forms of literature – novel, poem, short story, novella and drama. Then the dramatic form is merely the script of a play.
So why squeeze a potential novel into a much abbreviated form – only dialogue and specific stage directions?
On the one hand, it makes sense why The Sunset Limited is a play and not a traditional novel. The benefits of staging the dialogue outweigh any pros to novelization. I honestly couldn’t care less what color the pots on the stove are when the two characters are debating the existence in God.
And the act of listening to the debate, watching the debate, incites all the extra layers of messiness that belong with the story. (See yesterday.)
I was bouncing around more on the internet and Wikipedia had a sentence that caught my eye.
The structure of dramatic texts, unlike other forms of literature, is directly influenced by this collaborative production and collective reception.
The collective reception sounds like the important element here. McCarthy wanted an immediate audience to this debate, a collective audience of many people, not just the single reader alone in a room.
I wonder if he wanted to write this as a novel but realized the dramatic form would better serve the work.
Oh, Cormac McCarthy, if Oprah ever gets you out of the house again this is the question I will ask!