My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The writing in this book is wonderfully subtle. It’s as though Carson McCullers spends the whole novel chopping quietly away at a grand old oak tree. You don’t realize so much is happening in the small everyday acts of these characters until the end when the whole tree comes down, leaving everyone shocked and sad and hyper-aware of a vast emptiness left behind.
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.