by Kate Walz
A typical Southern novel opens with a rebellious young protagonist hiding from the blistering summer heat of some small town in Alabama or Georgia under the shade of an ancient billowing willow tree. The roads are dirt, the tea is sweet and the only issue the town folk experience is the overbearing shift in race relations.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, the first book by Carson McCullers, doesn’t quite fit this classic romantic Southern vision. First published in 1940, it would be hard to avoid the obvious race issue on the precipice of a breakthrough, but McCullers dives deeper into the lesser known, as she explores issues including mental health, disability, and isolation.
Each character possesses a flaw that separates them from the average person, simultaneously helping and hurting each one. They are brought together at the boarding house owned by the Kelly family, and their yearning for something more than the small town they inhabit. All the characters are drawn to a deaf mute resident, John Singer, who offers hope to each of them as they bestow imaginary traits and backstories upon him from his lack of speech.
If you want to know what the South was really like without all the jargon and unnecessary biscuit references, this book will give you a taste. Even if you don’t care about the Southern lifestyle, McCullers reminds her reader of all the intricacies of life that become lost.In fact, the characters personality spans a wide range of contradictions. Featuring John Singer, a deaf gay wanderer, Dr. Copeland, a black doctor dying of tuberculosis, Jake Blout, a lost Communist alcoholic, and Mick Kelly, a young girl trying to escape her giant family with music, the reading experience is simultaneously relatable and riveting.
Though McCullers strays from the classic Southern rubric, her ideas are not radical. Her writing style can be ambiguous, especially when she attempts to reveal the character’s innermost thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, the excitement of the plot gets lost in rampant description of people, places and things; but the consistent insertion of dramatic events helps balance out the dull sections. MORE SPECIFIC – sandra Bullock moment
McCullers avoids a happy ending. While some closure is offered at the end, there are other scenes left depressingly open. Even without the happy ending, there is no shortage of crucial epiphanies that wrap this book up to show off each character’s incredible growth. Thus, a major theme evolves in the end that each of these lost characters are better together.
A flow between reality and fiction is so seamless, it is easy to forget these people don’t really exist. The writing seems real enough that every character experiences life in a way that just about any reader can relate. For most people can relate to feeling lost, like an outcast, confused about where to go next or who they are.
Here in the heart of Summer, sweet is life to me still,
But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill.
The Lonely Hunter by Fiona MacLeod (WIlliam Sharp)