“I would never live in a house with dirty windows” said Constance Blackwood. This is her response to her sister Mary Katherine’s suggestion that they let their windows get dirty to the point of opacity, as a way to prevent the townspeople from seeing into their house. Her response turns a blind eye to the fact that there are closed rooms of the house filled with broken things, the top half of the house has been burned away and the townspeople regard them as inhuman creatures. But as long as their windows are clean, they are leading a proper life. Some people are like this. They can ignore massive, fundamental problems in their lives by focusing on keeping up appearances. Constance’s aversion is to the situation of her family, who are outcasts due to the suspicious deaths of almost all of them six years prior. What grows between the remaining family members is an insular system of love and devotion, each protecting each other in their own disturbed ways. It creates a reassuringly justified agoraphobia, the “castle” of the title, perfect except for the gleefully ignored fact that they are actually serving penance.
I picked up Drop Edge because its author, Rudy Wurlitzer, wrote two of my favorite movies; Walker and Two Lane Blacktop. I had always heard it was also linked to another of my favorites, Dead Man (it turns out Dead Man was “unofficially inspired by” Drop Edge in its original screenplay form). Drop Edge lived up to all those expectations. Its passive protagonist greets the kaleidoscopically surreal world he inhabits with a shrug of acceptance, navigating from one disarmingly strange and oddly stirring scene to the next with such frequency that you feel like he must have lived ten lives (as is appropriate- we’re in tall tale territory here). That protagonist, Zebulon, is trapped between the worlds of life and death and is compulsively drawn to a woman in a similar situation, each hoping that they can help free each other from purgatory. But if there’s a through-line in this story, it’s lost in the tornado of wild mountain doin’s that question whether or not those big questions really matter. Drop Edge drifts back and forth from addressing its themes, to not, then back again, like a dead leaf lackadaisically drifting to the ground.