After finishing the lengthy An American Tragedy, I was pondering a break, however, I’m a sucker for a good southern tale and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter did not disappoint. Just as a visit to the south forces one to slow down and take in all that surrounds, MuCullers does the same as she draws the reader in, gets them to relax and then gives them a nice little slap to be sure they are paying attention.
This was not a charming southern tale, but rather a blunt portrayal of life in the south in the 1930’s. Like a slowly running creek that disappears and reappears in a torrent, the tale that Carson McCullers weaves so wonderfully, vacillates from a leisurely stroll to a desperate run and back to a slow saunter.
The characters are so finely defined that it is as if they are a friend, neighbor or close relative. What was most remarkable was McCullers’ ability to have each character speak to what is inside most every human being, from our petty annoyances to our self-doubts.
Mick Kelly, the twelve-year-old girl whose family home has become a rooming house, struggles with letting go of her childhood. When she realizes she must take on an unwanted responsibility to help support her family, she muses over her decision at the New York Cafe after ordering both a cold glass of beer and an ice cream sundae.
A tall and handsome mute, John Singer, is one of the Kelly’s tenants and draws many devotees, including Mick. Ironically, everyone seems to believe Singer is the only person who understands them and they barrage him with their banter never noticing that he neither adds nor takes anything from their conversations.
Dr. Copeland, another admirer of Singer has spent his entire life focused on his purpose, however, it comes to naught and as a result of his obsessions, he loses his wife and becomes alienated from his remaining family.
For some reason, I’m reminded of Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse quote; “We perished, each alone”.
A stroll with Carson McCullers would be rather enjoyable, but I fear we’d either talk excitedly over each other’s words or there’d be lengthy periods of awkward silence. Perhaps we could break the ice over a chocolate sundae with a glass of beer at a cozy cafe…
..His agitation gave way gradually to exhaustion and there was a look about him of deep calm. In his face there came to be a brooding peace that is seen most often in the faces of the very sorrowful or the very wise…
…He was sorry he had talked to Alice. With her, silence was better. Being around that woman always made him different from his real self. It made him tough and small and common as she was…
…He was like a man who had served a term in prison or had been to Harvard College or had lived for a long time with foreigners in South America. He was like a person who had been somewhere that other people are not likely to go or had done something that others are not apt to do.
The place was still not crowded–it was the hour when men who have been up all night meet those who are freshly wakened and ready to start a new day. The sleepy waitress was serving both beer and coffee. There was no noise or conversation, for each person seemed to be alone. The mutual distrust between the men who were just awakened and those who were ending a long night gave everyone a feeling of estrangement.
My rating for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a 9 out of 10.
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