Thursday, March 9, 2017
Some reasons why The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a great novel
Starting with the obvious, like all readers I'm astonished that Carson McCullers could have written The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter when she was 23 - the style is so clear and elegant, the observations so wise, the narrative structure so seamless, sharp images, surprising turns of phrase, complex characters who interact in surprising but credible ways, the knowledge about a community and way of life so profound - it would seem that this novel has to be the work of a mature writers whose tired her hand a # of times before attaining this goal. Yes, it's truly great American novel, often forgotten because McCullers had relatively little production in her short life - but really it should share a ranking w/ Faulkner (an obvious influence) and Sherwood Anderson (less obvious). McCullers's novel is about a small city in Georgia in the late 1930s, and she tells the story - at least through part 1 (of 3) in a series of chapters that are overlapping narratives, each focuses on a new character but each character appears in multiple chapters, and the interactions among them become more complex as the narrative develops. Perhaps the central character is Mick Taylor, a spirited young girl whose family runs a boarding house (where some of the other characters live or work) - she's recognizable as McCullers (a similar character is central to her other major novel, Member of the Wedding) - and we sense that she's the observant force. Other lead characters include Mr. Singer, a man who is deaf and mute, and as such is someone people feel comfortable speaking to about their deepest thoughts and needs (he does understand through lip-reading), Dr. Copeland (?), a black physician, an intellectual who feels (rightly) marginalized and victimized, and Blount, the stranger who arrives in town and whom we gradually learn is a political radical who hopes to stir up a labor movement in the cotton mills (he is not well received). These are the people - but the town itself is a character, in the way McCullers captures the mood of the streets at night, the ever-pervasive heat, the poverty of some of the lives - and even the minor interactions of characters - a late-night squabble between man and wife, the strangely tender (and perhaps homoerotic?) relationship between Singer and his best friend confined to a mental hospital and indifferent to Singer's kindnesses. This novel is drenched in missed connections and sorrow.