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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Thoughts on re-reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Reading through Carson McCullers's great The Heart is a Lonely Hunter in prep for book-group meet tomorrow, and a few observations: It's not a novel to skim! Skimming it on 2nd recent reading does remind me of the characters and of some plot elements I'd forgotten so there's some value in a quick read, but it's also clear that HLH is not a novel about plot. So much of its power comes from CMcC's ability to create a sense of place, the wit and precision of her dialogue, and the interior life of the characters - not what they do but how they feel. (The title is a giveaway re that strength, I think.) Often when I have to skim a novel I can get by literally by reading only the first sentence of each paragraph. This method does not work w/ CMcC; she doesn't build from "topic sentences"; as in life, the initial statements are often misleading or indirect. Second observation, it's not only mind-blowingly impressive that she could have written such a profound and complex novel about her home town and her youth and her family at age 22 or so - millions of first novels are accounts of family, youth, hometown - but almost universally these novels are strictly confined to the sensibilities of the young-author protagonist. What's even more impressive, though, is how carefully she anticipates the characters and interlaces their actions and appearances. Again, most young authors writing about their youth, family, home town devote chapter by chapter to unique characters - Winesburg, Ohio, is the prototype, followed by about a million "linked stories" from grad-school writing programs. Re-reading HLH I notice the early appearances of and references to each of the characters in the earlier stories - we hear, for example, of the alcoholic activist agitator as a patron of Biff's diner well before we get to know him as a character in his own right; we meet Biff's cook, Willie, long before we get the connection between Willie and the Kelly family (Portia's brother, later victimized by racist brutality). In other words, McCullers is in complete control of her narrative, writing with an assurance that's rare in a writer of any aging and astonishing in one so young and promising.

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