Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (4/5)

First published: 1940
Page count: 368

The back says: At its center is the deaf-mute John Singer, who becomes the confidant for various types of misfits in a Georgia mill town during the 1930s. Each one yearns for escape from small town life. When Singer's mute companion goes insane, Singer moves into the Kelly house, where Mick Kelly, the book's heroine (and loosely based on McCullers), finds solace in her music. Wonderfully attuned to the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition, and with a deft sense for racial tensions in the South, McCullers spins a haunting, unforgettable story that gives voice to the rejected, the forgotten, and the mistreated -- and, through Mick Kelly, gives voice to the quiet, intensely personal search for beauty.
I say: I think I fell in some kind of love with John Singer – same as everyone else – without really understanding why; which was the whole point, I suppose. Finding someone who will listen to any and everything you have to say without seeming to judge will do that to a person. Especially if they always make time for, and are exceptionally kind to you.

Apart from John, there are four main characters whose lives we follow in turns; all connected through John, though not exclusively so. There is tomboy Mick, who dreams of being a musician and whose descriptions of falling in love with music were very vivid and sometimes poetic; Biff, who owns a diner and quietly observes his customers while not giving away too much of his own life; Jake, an out of town alcoholic who decides to stick around in town because he doesn’t really have anywhere else to go; and Dr Copeland, an idealistic black doctor who wants more from and of his children and the black community.

It was interesting to see the way their lives brushed against each other and how each of them saw themselves and viewed the others. None of them could really understand why the others visited John, and it is therein the beauty of the novel lies. Obviously, as the title suggests, they are all lonely in their own way and searching for something they are convinced John can help them find or attain, neither of them ever really stopping to deeply question what John wants. They are all selfish in their need, while John is guarded of his. He never really converses with any of his visitors and saves up money to visit his former housemate whom he tells all. Unfortunately the former housemate has gone insane and doesn’t respond to anything John tells him, so it becomes a form or role reversal.

Although the prose sways from poetic to confusingly bland, I found myself wondering if I like McCullers or if it’s just her characters and their struggle I like. It is hard to pinpoint, but there was something lacking in the prose, and that is the main reason this doesn’t get a full 5/5.  

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