Sometimes you read a book, and the characters are so well developed, so deep, so true, that you forget that they are not real people. Such was the case with The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Each has passions, each has flaws. Each has dreams and disappointments. This was a beautiful, character-driven novel, and I fell in love with all of it.
It would be difficult to say who the main character in the book is. You see the story at times from each of their perspectives. One of the characters is Mick Kelly, a young girl, kind of a tomboy, with a passion for music. The author was quite a talented musician herself, even accepted to study piano at Juilliard, so I wonder how much of that character is based on her own experience. The perhaps most interesting character in the book is a deaf mute named John Singer. By the end of the book, all of the other characters turn to him for advice, and references to him in a God-like capacity become overwhelming. To the extent this reflects the author’s interpretation of God, I find it quite interesting: God is kind and well-meaning, but he cannot hear or speak to you, you are never quite sure if he knows what you are saying and, I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone that has not yet read it, but I just don’t imagine God ending in that way. But I think there is no question that, through the character of Singer, she is saying that each person makes God whatever they need/want God to be.
Her story takes place in the South in the 1930s. There is a lot of unrest, politically and socially. Poverty is rampant. Through several of her characters, the author addresses complex issues: racism, fascism, socialism. This was her first novel, and the way she effortlessly and simply covers such issues is very impressive. You understand her point, but she is not pedantic. I also appreciate her writing in its straightforward treatment of delicate issues. In more contemporary literature, people address these issues with such concern for political correctness that they end up not saying much at all. I found her approach quite refreshing by contrast.
INSIDE ROOM AND OUTSIDE ROOM
One of my favorite parts of the whole book was this concept that the character Mick Kelly refers to as “the inside room and the outside room.” These are like compartments of our inner selves. The outside room is the superficial you that everyone sees and knows. But the inside room is secret, and just for you, where you go to feel your deepest feelings and think your deepest thoughts. You wish, or dreamers do, that they could spend all their time in this inside room. But life gets in the way, and you can’t. And sometimes, if you are too upset or too distracted, you can’t get there at all. I like and can relate to this concept. I liked it very much.
“THOSE WHO KNOW”
Another concept that really spoke to me (for better or worse) was an idea that comes from a character named Jake Blount. He talks about “those who know.” At first, he does not define who “they” are, but that’s fine. When I first read that, I thought “yes, exactly! There are those that know and those that don’t know. I know just what he is talking about.” He continues to talk about the “knows and the don’t knows,” and you find yourself thinking “yes! There are so many that don’t know.” He talks about how nice it is to find someone else that knows. That for every one that knows, there are 10,000 that don’t. I felt myself, throughout the book, identifying with this, as “one who knows.” Of course, in the end, it turns out Blount is (1) an alcoholic, (2) insane, and (3) a communist. Makes “knowing” a less compelling concept, but I still recognize meaning from the general idea.
FADE TO BLACK
One thing that I really liked was how she dealt with certain topics, not by ignoring them, but just with tasteful subtlety. In contemporary literature, we are beat about the head with excruciating details relating to our characters’ sex lives. McCullers did not ignore these very human impulses and desires, but she approached them with taste and grace. Not everything needs to be explained and over-explained. Sometimes less is more, and I found her thoughtful but not gruesome approach to these concepts a pleasant break.
A fantastic book. A sweet, sad, thought-provoking, lovely read. I would highly recommend this one for a book group or just a nice, inspiring personal perusal.