Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers

I have known about this book for most of my reading life, and it hovered in the background as a shouldberead. It should be read, most definitely, but I wonder how many people would appreciate the rambling style of this American classic now?  Only 23 when this, her first book was published, it shows great insight into the poor of the southern states of America, both black and white in the 1930s and 40s.  McCullers was white, and came from the state of Georgia, although she decamped to New York early in adulthood, and only returned from time to time to absorb the sadness of it all.

There are several main characters here, living in a shall mill town in the south;  all drawn from what I think must have been close observation of those around her.  There's Mick, a tomboy on the verge of puberty, who cannot understand her feelings (and may well be a picture of a younger McCullers herself); John Singer, a deaf mute who lodges with Mick's parents now, following the madness and incarceration of his life's companion;  Doctor Copeland, a black doctor who cannot understand why his children have not followed his route and wanted to better for themselves.  These people, together with others, form a picture of poverty and sadness in a small town where to be poor is expected and put up with. The Doctor has spent his entire career not only healing the sick but urging his patients (all black, of course) on to better things, never understanding why they do not take his advice.  Mick, who wants so much to be able to play the piano and write music, but can only listen to music by walking across town to listen to someone's radio from their open window, is a girl you'd want a stroke of luck for, but it's hard to see where this might come from.
I don't want to give too much away, because I think the best way to read this book is to get in and meander through the characters' lives.It's typical of it's time but still relevant today in it's message. And written in (for me) a new and rather lovely style.