Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers

(hb; 1940)


Loneliness, racism and the inability to communicate with one’s neighbors dominate this emotional, melancholic landmark novel, which charts a few years in a small American town (ending in 1939). McCullers’s writing is steady and engrossing, though her prose occasionally gets awkward (when describing certain characters’s drunken, entangled thoughts). To McCuller’s credit, though, not many writers could’ve written this novel the way she did, so occasional awkwardness is forgivable – and skimmable.

The characters are wonderfully rendered. The central character is a deaf mute, John Singer, whose mentally sick friend, Spiro Antonapoulos, goes away to a hospital. Shortly after that, Singer finds himself the silent, tolerant, often bewildered depository of his neighbors’s dreams, namely: Mick Kelly, the tomboyish teenage girl who secretly dreams of making music, like the stuff she hears on radio; Biff Brannon, a kindly diner owner whose marriage disintegrated long before his wife’s death; Benedict Mady Copeland, a black doctor whose angry politics are based in race theories, and disappointment in his socially complacent children; Jake Blount, a Marxist alcoholic whose rants favor the labor movement.

Readers seeking an action-oriented, swift-burn-of-a-novel should avoid this; the same goes for those looking for happy escapism, because while there are moments of kindness, unspoken intentions, frustration, poverty and gloom prevail here. That said, I’m glad I read this, because much of what McCullers writes about politics, racism and the “human condition” applies to today’s world.

The ending, consistently melancholic, rambles and disappoints, though McCullers is clearly striving to strike a balancing tone that wraps things up. She fails, but again, it’s a small failing in a novel that has few inked peers.

Effective, if depressing, work.


The film, was released stateside on July 31, 1968.

Alan Arkin played John Singer. Sondra Locke played Mick Kelly. Stacy Keach, billed as Stacy Keach Jr., played Jake Blount. Chuck McCann played Spiro Antonapoulos. Percy Rodriguez played Dr. Copeland.

Robert Ellis Miller directed, from a script by Thomas C. Ryan.

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