Sunday, July 17, 2005

27. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

by Carson McCullers

I don’t know if I’m really cut out for this Southern fiction stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever truly loved anything by a Southern writer. For example, I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in ninth grade and, after having reread it many years later because I had completely forgotten everything in it, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a great story. Very well-written. But do I love it? I’m glad that I read it, but it doesn’t make my list. I feel the same way about The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Well-written story, shocking at times, and full of emotion, but did I love it while I was reading it? Not really.

I first caught wind of this book not because of Oprah’s book club, but because Pamie mentioned it and said that the title was deceiving, that it wasn’t anything like the romantic nature it suggests. I’ve wanted to read it since then and I’ll admit that Oprah picking it for her book club intrigued me even more. I wasn’t a fan of her regular book club, but every book she’s picked for the classics version has been a book I’ve been meaning to read. Just don’t think I picked this up solely because of Oprah!

McCullers’s story focuses on a small Southern town and five individuals within it. They are Mick Kelly, a young girl on the verge of adolescence who takes care of her brothers while dreaming of becoming a famous musician; Biff Brannon, the owner of a café who reflects on his life and what he wanted from it after the death of his wife; Dr. Copeland, a proud Black man who has lived through years of racism and yearns to see his people rise up; Jake Blount, a sometimes drunk man who is full of political ideology; and John Singer, a mute who boards in the Kellys’ house and becomes the confidant of each of these four people. In spite of his inability to talk, or more likely because of it, the four share their dreams, ideas, and lives with Singer each night as he intently listens to them. Singer, who wound up in the Kellys’ house because his life-long friend Spiros Antonapoulos, also a mute, was committed to a mental institution, quickly becomes malleable for every person in the town. Some believe him to be a Jew while others think of him as Turkish. Whatever ethnic, religious, or political characteristic is necessary to make Singer a companion is what each person ascribes to him. Whether Singer is aware of his role in everyone’s lives is never revealed.

There were parts of the story that were particularly compelling, like when Mick first started to compose music and had to figure out how to turn the tune in her head into notes on the paper, or when Dr. Copeland had to reluctantly select an essay to award on “My Ambition: How I Can Better the Position of the Negro Race in Society” and the only coherent one was full of hated towards Whites and expressed the desire to strip them of their rights. What happens with Singer is also heartrending, as he becomes absorbed into these people’s lives while none of them express any interest in his own. This isn’t the kind of book that I regret ever having read, but I just never really fell in love with it. I never fell in love with the characters or felt any particular attachment to them and I don’t think I really understood the political and racial ramifications of their actions. But that’s just me. There’s obviously a reason this book, like To Kill a Mockingbird, has received the praise that it has. For that alone it’s worth checking out. I do believe that there’s a lot to be gained from this story and I’m sure many people have taken much out of it. It just wasn’t for me.

2 Comments:

Blogger Doppelganger said...

Awww... now see, I love both The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and To Kill a Mockingbird (so much so that I gave my son the middle name Atticus), so I feel this compulsion to suggest other southern writers to you, in order to get you past this hump.

Have you ever read any Tennessee Williams? How about Flannery O'Connor? Or Kate Chopin?

I've got it -- James Agee! A Death in the Family is one of the most affecting novels I've ever encountered. I guarantee you'll be fully drawn into it.

11:06 PM  
Blogger Exxie said...

I keep trying it, and I'll continue to try it, but it just might not be my cup of tea. I've got The Awakening already on my shelf (I didn't realize she was Southern...guess I didn't read the book jacket!) and I've heard good things about James Agee, so that's on the to-be-read list. So don't worry. I haven't signed off on Southern lit just yet!

7:41 AM  

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