The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
How do you explain or give a story line to a book like this? This is a year in the American South during the Depression. It was written in 1939, so it is/was a contemporary novel, not a retrospective like would be written now. It is a disturbing, vivid picture of the realities of every day life and how people cope.
Mr. Singer is a deaf mute whose best friend has been institutionalized. He now lives in Mick Kelly's family's boarding house. Mick is 14, just ready to enter Vocational School (high school), loves music, a free spirit, and in charge of her younger brothers almost every day. She doesn't have any close friends but talks to Singer most days. Biff Brannon and his wife own the New York Cafe. He tends the restaurant and bar at night, she tends it during the day time. They seem to share the business and the apartment and little else. Jake Blount comes into town and goes on a drunken spree. He doesn't get violent but he doesn't get sober, either. Dr. Copeland is an educated black man trying to care for the Negro community.
Mr. Singer is the pivotal character around which the others circle, yet none is the main character of the story. McCullers swings the narrative from one to another. Mick has her hopes and dreams of the future and buying a piano. Blount believes in pure Communism where all share equally. Biff works and keeps his business going without any major opinions. Copeland is an avid civil rites advocate over a decade before the Civil Rights movement takes hold in the South. The characters come together and move away again.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter isn't about any of the characters, but rather the condition of the South during the depression and the social ills of the time. In the words of reviewer Klaus Mann, this novel is "devoid of any sentimentality". It is a straightforward narrative. It doesn't dwell on any single incident or people's emotions. It tells a story without judgment or closure. The actions of the people slip by before the reader realizes their importance.
I did not like The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I read it with my book club. We all agreed (me, too) that it is well written and insightful into the minds of the characters. But we were split on whether we liked it or not. I like sentimentality in my books. I like for there to be some happiness. But there is no happy ending here - just coping with what life gives and continuing on - or not.
By the time I was half way through I was making notes on all the different events that were a social commentary. I noted black civil rights, Communism, Christianity, hopes and dreams, family relations, insanity, close friendship, physical disability, freedom of children, poverty, pending war, spousal abuse, chain gangs, prison abuse, severe illness, and aging. There are more intertwined as well.
If you like reality and social commentary in your novels, this is an excellent book for you. If, like me, you like more emotion and sentimentality, don't bother. I had a sense of distaste throughout most of the novel. But The Heart of a Lonely Hunter will make you think - and hope we can improve.
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These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
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