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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter Paperback – April 21, 2004
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“To me the most impressive aspect of THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER is the astonishing humanity that enables a white writer, for the first time in Southern fiction, to handle Negro characters with as much ease and justice of those of her own race. This cannot be accounted for stylistically or politically; it seems to stem from an attitude toward life.” -- Richard Wright
From the Inside Flap
When she was only twenty-three, Carson McCullers's first novel created a literary sensation. She was very special, one of America's superlative writers who conjures up a vision of existence as terrible as it is real, who takes us on shattering voyages into the depths of the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition. This novel is the work of a supreme artist, Carson McCullers's enduring masterpiece. The heroine is the strange young girl, Mick Kelly. The setting is a small Southern town, the cosmos universal and eternal. The characters are the damned, the voiceless, the rejected. Some fight their loneliness with violence and depravity, Some with sex or drink, and some -- like Mick -- with a quiet, intensely personal search for beauty.
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The book is fairly complex, and there were moments I felt it was a tad thick and slow. But McCullers is a master of tension, too, and the sequence leading up to -- hmmmm, how do I put this spoilerlessly -- the sequence with the rifle is an absolute textbook example of a writer in complete control of her material and her reader. Can you read "on the edge of your seat"? Why yes, yes you can.
This is a fine classic book, well deserving of its place in the canon. The outlook is dark, but not unremittingly so. The sentences are beautiful, and sometimes astonishingly so. The plot is rich, sometimes funny, not over-determined or schematic. A lovely read.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is simply a must-read for anyone who admires and appreciates the GREAT American authors. Yes it is gritty. Yes it is sad. Yes, it is hard to put down. McCullers first novel flows much like Stockton's The Help, and tackles several issues of both her day and ours. When first published I imagine that it would have been considered shocking.
My one caveat is that McCullers provides 2 characters who actively promote the failed, flawed, and futile ideology of socialism. I am not certain what McCulers' stance on this issue was, or why it is prominent in the book. The characters who espoused it were apparently caricatures. One was a rejected but stable and honorable member of society, and the other a roughnecked buffoon, brawler, drifter and drunk. I am not certain if McCullers was promoting or lambasting Socialism, but one message is clear from the book; The American people are asleep and need to WAKE UP quick, fast and in a hurry!
McCullers' debut is overall stunning. While it cannot necessarily be compared to other writings it does bring to mind Camus' The Stranger, and Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. It is THAT level of good. It is that level of dense. If you have not read this wonderful book you should.
The novel centers around John Singer, a deaf-mute who lives happily contented with his best friend, another deaf-mute, until the friend goes insane and must be institutionalized. Singer moves into a boarding house and becomes the receptacle for the dreams, thoughts, rants and loneliness of the rest of the main characters in the book including young Mick Kelly, the teenage girl whose family owns the boarding house, Dr. Copeland, the town's only black doctor, Biff Brannon, a restaurant owner, and Jake Blount, a drunk mad with his ideas about how society should work. They all talk and talk at Singer, sometimes to his bewilderment, but none of them listen to him. Then, when tragedy strikes, they are all shocked and surprised. Isn't that how life usually works, in too many sad and awful ways to mention?
I enjoyed "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" for McCullers's well-observed scenes and the thought-provoking clarity with which she sees the predicament of each of her characters. The way she develops this languid world of the south, layer upon layer, with sights, sounds, smells and the overall feeling of impotent dreams and disappointed hopes is truly a marvel to behold. I shall remember always the many small gestures that I found so touching as to be heartbreaking: the way Singer would look earnestly into the face of his friend before they parted each day to go to work; Mick spray painting the names of her idols on the walls of a house and then lying up on the roof so she could make her plans; Dr. Copeland wanting so much to reach out to his family, but being tongue-tied as though he and they would forever speak a different language; Biff Brannon dotting his dead wife's perfume to his temples and absorbing the memories of when he had loved.
I highly recommend this book with the hope that each person who reads it will come away pondering the state of their own "inside rooms," and take care to tend and spend time in that cherished space.