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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

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Author: Carson McCullers

Published: September 8th 2000 by Mariner Books (first published 1940)

Format: Paperback , 359 pages

Isbn: 9780618084746

Language: English


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Carson McCullers’ prodigious first novel was published to instant acclaim when she was just twenty-three. Set in a small town in the middle of the deep South, it is the story of John Singer, a lonely deaf-mute, and a disparate group of people who are drawn towards his kind, sympathetic nature. The owner of the café where Singer eats every day, a young girl desperate to gro Carson McCullers’ prodigious first novel was published to instant acclaim when she was just twenty-three. Set in a small town in the middle of the deep South, it is the story of John Singer, a lonely deaf-mute, and a disparate group of people who are drawn towards his kind, sympathetic nature. The owner of the café where Singer eats every day, a young girl desperate to grow up, an angry drunkard, a frustrated black doctor: each pours their heart out to Singer, their silent confidant, and he in turn changes their disenchanted lives in ways they could never imagine.

30 review for The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

  1. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    I knew nothing about this book at all. Well, except for the title, I’d definitely heard the title before – but I would have bet money the book was written by a man and that it was bad romance novel, at least, that would have been my best guess. Instead, this is now perhaps one of my all-time favourite American novels. It can be compared without the least blush of embarrassment with Steinbeck at his best and Harper Lee out killing mocking birds – and there are many, many points of comparison betw I knew nothing about this book at all. Well, except for the title, I’d definitely heard the title before – but I would have bet money the book was written by a man and that it was bad romance novel, at least, that would have been my best guess. Instead, this is now perhaps one of my all-time favourite American novels. It can be compared without the least blush of embarrassment with Steinbeck at his best and Harper Lee out killing mocking birds – and there are many, many points of comparison between all three writers. This one has completely captivated me – and in ways I had not expected to be captivated. My very dear friend Nell and I were chatting one day about Calvino’s idea of the books one might write and how these ought to fit into an imaginary bookcase – the short version of his idea being, what books would you like your own book to be beside on an imaginary bookshelf? Anyway, in the very next email from Nell there appeared a list of books – one of which was this one. I went to the library to see if I could find it, and then to some second hand bookshops around and about – but with no luck. Well, six months or so later and now I’ve read it. And god I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am. The title is actually the perfect title for this book, but that is only true after you have read it – it is actually a remarkably bad title for the book before you have read it. I would not be surprised if 999 readers in a thousand would think that this would be a story about unrequited love. That this might just be a melancholy story about a protagonist, let’s call him Mr Sadsack, who has spent his life looking for the perfect partner, but she is terribly allusive and although he sometimes despairs that he will ever find her no one reading this imaginary novel called ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ doubts that in the end our nice wee man will finally end up with his perfect partner. But no. Although the title might make you think the book is about this sort of thing, it is about nothing like this at all. I guess I could say that the book has grand themes about ‘what is wrong with The South’ – and that might make you form images in your mind of the inhuman treatment of black Americans in the southern states of America and the struggle to end segregation and a terrible legal system based on discrimination. And although you would be closer to the truth, it would still not be quite the book you might expect it to be. And if I said that it has themes concerning the subjugation of labour and how the economic system is sustained by creating the conditions by which the working classes are convinced of their fundamental inferiority so they do nothing to remove their fetters – and that the heart that seeks freedom is also a lonely hunter – all this would be true too, to a point, and not true beyond that point. There are parts of this book that made me think about Chomsky’s political writings and how dreadfully long the truth has been known about oppression and exploitation and how dreadfully long it has been clear what needs to be done. And that this too is the part of the American tradition that is spoken of, if at all, only in whispers; for don’t you know they’re talking about a revolution in whispers? And if I said this book is about coming of age and the loss of innocence and how becoming an adult is actually a kind of death which we might long for, but where more is lost than it seems we could possibly dare to lose. If I said that the young woman in this who throughout the novel moves from being a child to becoming an adult (even without some of the possible horrible things that could have happened to her not actually eventuating) and yet she still basically loses everything by growing up – that would be mostly true too. And if I said that the book is about selfishness and how a moment’s decision or thoughtlessness can have horrible and irrevocable consequences – well, you might think you’ve read this book many times before – but again, I think you would be wrong. Or I could say that this is a book about how we fundamentally misunderstand others – for doesn’t everyone misunderstand (project onto) John Singer, the deaf-mute who is more or less central to the story, whatever it is they need him to be? And isn’t Singer guilty of exactly the same human frailty with his own friend Antonapoulos? I thought it was terribly clever of her to have Singer bring Antonapoulos a projector – I thought she was nearly god-like as a writer at that point. What this book is really is a warning – not a warning that I might have written if I was to write a book like this – but a dark and terrible warning all the same. Much darker and much more terrible than I think I would be capable of writing. No, I couldn’t write a book like this, and knowing that fills me with the deepest of regrets. Because this is also a much more optimistic book than I think I would be capable of writing too. McCullers was 23 when she wrote this book – god, the thought of it fills me with awe. There are times when I would almost be prepared to believe that some people really do have older souls than the rest of us. It is as incomprehensible that a 23 year old could write this book as it is to believe that a woman of only 22 years could have written Pride and Prejudice. And the warning? Well, that you can be absolutely right in what you believe, you can be standing on the side of righteousness and hold the truth shining in the palm of your hand and be doing everything in your power to improve the lot of your people – and you can still be only half human. You can walk in the ways of the great project of your time, you can know and you can spend your life seeking to show the ‘don’t knows’ so they too become part of the enlightened – and still you can be a damaged half a man. We are barely human without our dreams, but even when our dreams are not selfish and are directed at the greatest, the most noble of aspirations, we are still human, all too human. The scene with the two old men, the one black and the other white, arguing through the night until dawn about the best way to liberate those who are oppressed and unaware is achingly sad. And why? Because it is blindingly obvious to anyone with eyes that neither of these men could ever ‘mobilise the masses’. Their dreams are as just and pure and true as they are barren and impotent and without substance. They shimmer and flap and torment them both – and thus is the human condition. Of all the characters I think perhaps Doctor Copeland is the most poignant. He effectively loses his own children because they do not live up to his dreams for them, his need for them to fight for his ideals. This really is a key theme of the book, that dreams not only have the power to make us human, but can then over-power us and make us something other than human too. With the book being written at a time when Hitler was screaming at crowds of men standing with arms raised in salute this 23 year old woman had a much clearer vision of what was wrong with the world than I have ever been able to achieve. And she tells of this vision in the only way it can be told - in whispers. This really is a remarkable book – like nothing I imagined it to be and so much more than I could ever have hoped..

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jenn(ifer)

    She went there, didn't she. As I read this novel, I could tell McCullers was setting the stage for something truly horrible to happen. And horrible things did happen. But they were never as bad as I thought they would be. Until... Oh yes, she waited until the very end to rip my heart from my chest, throw it on the floor, stomp on it with her pumps and then throw it into the ocean to be eaten by sharks. How does someone write a book this rich and wise and honest at 23? How does a young girl write s She went there, didn't she. As I read this novel, I could tell McCullers was setting the stage for something truly horrible to happen. And horrible things did happen. But they were never as bad as I thought they would be. Until... Oh yes, she waited until the very end to rip my heart from my chest, throw it on the floor, stomp on it with her pumps and then throw it into the ocean to be eaten by sharks. How does someone write a book this rich and wise and honest at 23? How does a young girl write such darkness, such tragedy? Like Flannery O'Connor, she suffered from illness from a young age. Maybe that is where her darkness came from? As you can probably glean from the title, all of the characters in this novel are haunted by the ghost of loneliness. Mick is a young girl on the brink of womanhood. Like many teenage girls, she feels isolated and misunderstood, but finds solace in two things: the company of a deaf mute boarder in her family home and her true passion, music. Let me share a passage with you describing Mick's experience of hearing Beethoven's 3rd symphony for the first time: How did it come? For a minute the opening balanced from one side to the other. Like a walk or a march. Like God strutting in the night. The outside of her was suddenly froze and only that first part of the music was hot inside her heart. She could not even hear what sounded after, but she sat there waiting and froze, with her fists tight. After awhile the music came again, harder and loud. It didn't have anything to do with God. This was her, Mick Kelly, walking in the daytime and by herself at night. In the hot sun and in the dark with all her plans and feelings.This music was her - the real plain her. I can't emphasize enough how much that passage resonated with me. The theme of loneliness, of isolation carries through each of the characters we meet as McCullers weaves her magical tale. John Singer is a deaf mute who has only one person in the world he calls a friend; a fellow deaf mute. When his friend goes mad and is institutionalized, Singer no longer has his best friend by his side, he feels lost. Yet all of the folks in this small town are drawn to him. It's as if his deafness gives him a wisdom and understanding that others are sorely missing. Ironically, it's as if for the first time in their lives they feel the are being truly heard. Dr. Copeland is a black physician in the south. He feels isolated from his family because they don't want to follow in his footsteps; his ambition has driven away his wife and children. He feels isolated because he's a black man in a predominately white town. The only white person he feels he can trust is Mr. Singer. Jake Blount is a drunk and a drifter. His rage and inability to relate to others exacerbates his feelings of loneliness. Yet the presence of Mr. Singer soothes him. Biff Brannon is a cafe owner; people come in and out of his restaurant all day, yet he is alone. He and his wife have drifted apart even though they live in the same home; he has no children and no real friends, except for Mr. Singer. As I made my way through this journey, I hoped and hoped that things would turn out alright for these broken individuals. But things don't always turn out okay, and what you're left with is the harsh reality of life. We all experience tragedy. We are, all of us, lonely hunters.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    The heart is a lonely hunter and it can break in many different ways. Mine broke several times while reading this stunning document of American life. What a rich and multifaceted story, and what a perfect complement to other giants of American storytelling of that era. Just in the beginning, I saw traces of Steinbeck, most notably of his Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, in the small town talk and the slightly comical marital scenes. But the tone quickly grew darker, and when African American li The heart is a lonely hunter and it can break in many different ways. Mine broke several times while reading this stunning document of American life. What a rich and multifaceted story, and what a perfect complement to other giants of American storytelling of that era. Just in the beginning, I saw traces of Steinbeck, most notably of his Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, in the small town talk and the slightly comical marital scenes. But the tone quickly grew darker, and when African American life was introduced and put into contrast with the poor white characters, deeply rooted issues of racism, prejudice, exploitation and segregation took over. I thought I would claim one of the most heartbreaking scenes to be the naive prayer of an old coloured person, whose hope in Jesus reflects the evil of racist society and its dominating gods perfectly: “I say to Him, “Jesus Christ, us is all sad coloured peoples.” And then he will place His holy hand upon our heads and straightway us will be white as cotton.” My heart broke for that desperate old person, whose religion is tainted by the hopeless situation of white supremacy, both in the spiritual and physical world. But it turned out to be a minor issue in the complex community of lonely hearts. My heart broke for the man who tries to change the lives of coloured people in his neighbourhood, exchanging belief in Jesus for belief in Marxism, and seeing the dogma of socialism as the natural conclusion of the teachings of Jesus. He reminded me of the confused characters in Wise Blood, who get rid of their aggressive religion only to create another anti-creed, while mirroring their previous behaviour exactly. They have been trained to accept an authoritarian dogma even if they drop their supernatural faith in gods. Religious at heart, they have to follow a strong leader. There is no freedom of thought. But even though the socialist idea contains respect and hope for a better future for African Americans as well as for the poor masses of workers in general, that concept of life is bound to fail as well in a world that worships and perpetuates white power and corporate domination of capital. My heart broke when a disillusioned socialist explains the brainwashing that takes place within society to make exploited victims of corporate thinking believe in “American freedom” while rattling their chains. “But it has taken a hell of a lot of lies to keep them from knowing”, he summarises. But still he chooses to fight his African American counterpart instead of joining forces for real change. Each one according to his own lonely heart and creed. Trying to obtain justice in such a society can only lead to violence and continued abuse, as a heartbroken father experiences first hand when he tries to enter a white court to demand justice for his son, crippled for life in a prison. My heart broke when I read about the gratuitous violence against the young coloured men, and their lifelong suffering as a result. They have no voice to cry out for justice, and their fate is that of an Invisible Man in Ellison’s definition: they can’t be seen because nobody wants to see them. BLACK LIVES MATTER, one feels like yelling, taking a knee for change after a long history of abuse. But we all know what power answers when one tries to make one’s voice heard. Money and exclusive club behaviour speak louder than justice. Still. My heart broke because of the inhumane suffering of poor children in a society that doesn’t care about healthcare, education and safety. Where children are allowed to recklessly carry weapons at the age of 7, there will be accidents that destroy several families. There is no statistical research needed to prove that general availability of guns has a negative effect on innocent people. When a child hurts another child with a firearm, both end up victims of an absurd interpretation of the “rights of man” to protect themselves. My heart broke for the young girl who dreams of becoming a pianist, but whose fate it is to live and suffer a poor girl’s life. Nella Larsen’s Quicksand comes to mind - a life spent dreaming, without ever actually having a chance to follow one’s heart. My heart broke for the deaf mute man around whom the other characters circle like the spokes in a wheel. People in his surroundings treat him like a god because his muteness allows them to give him the qualities they wish him to have. I bow to Carson McCullers for that perfect definition of a god: mute and therefore adaptable to our personal, private imagination! Only the mute’s obese and egocentric fellow mute friend can’t find anything godlike in him, of course, and he suffers as a result. The heart is a strange hunter as well. Some hearts are too broken to be mended, after all. My heart broke because the contrast between fascism and democracy is as vividly tangible to me in our present times as it was to the characters in 1940, witnessing the rise of Hitler in Europe. When a young Jewish boy explains to his own horror that he was a fascist before he knew what Hitler did to Jews, it echoes what lures young impressionable people to accept and worship the power of a populist narcissist: “You know all the pictures of the people our age in Europe marching and singing songs and keeping step together. I used to think that was wonderful. All of them pledged to each other and with one leader. All of them with the same ideals and marching in step together.” The wish for unity in sameness is strong in religious and ideological communities around the world at all times, but occasionally it takes control of a whole generation, as in the 1930s. The scary revelation, to the boy himself, is the fact that it works so well. He concludes that there is no time for personal ambition as long as fascism reigns in Germany. It is democracy against dictatorship, and all other issues are paling beside the great struggle of the time. My heart broke because it is true, but at the same time it is not. All the other characters still fight their own fights against racism, sexism, poverty and prejudice. Life is too complicated for us to grasp, even when we are living it in a small town in America, powerless and helplessly alone with our pounding hearts. The heart is a lonely hunter, but we can share our heartfelt stories and hopefully develop some compassion for the hearts of others, learning to treat them with care and respect. For they keep pounding even when they are broken. It just hurts as hell. “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams!”

  4. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    ROCK AND ROLL It turns out that Miss McCullers did most of her great writing - most of her entire writing - before she was 30. Rock and roll! After 30 she was too busy having ghastly illnesses and marrying the same guy three or four times, and dodging invitations to a suicide pact from the guy she married all those times. So when she was 22 - I ask you! - she wrote this first novel which is a stone American classic. I had heretofore thought that absorbing a ton of influences and developing a uniq ROCK AND ROLL It turns out that Miss McCullers did most of her great writing - most of her entire writing - before she was 30. Rock and roll! After 30 she was too busy having ghastly illnesses and marrying the same guy three or four times, and dodging invitations to a suicide pact from the guy she married all those times. So when she was 22 - I ask you! - she wrote this first novel which is a stone American classic. I had heretofore thought that absorbing a ton of influences and developing a unique voice all by the age of 22 had only been done by Lennon/McCartney, Bob Dylan and Aubrey Beardsley, but Miss McCullers performs this remarkable feat too. Her surefootedness and precision are fantastic. I'm so much in awe that I feel sick to my stomach. METAPHORS FOR GOD WHICH IS A METAPHOR ALREADY Onto the book itself. The inexorable gravitational pull of the metaphor in all our verbal dealings is something I have mentioned before, so that even someone like Raymond Carver's ironed-flat tell-it-like-it-is bargain-basement prose still spins in stories like So Much Water So Close to Home or A Small Good Thing brilliant metaphorical explorations of the various uncomfortable truths he shoves our way (the ignored corpse, the tasteless birthday cake). Perhaps we no longer love overly obvious metaphors (Little Red Riding Hood) - then again, perhaps we do (The Titanic). But they're very useful when you try to talk about God - in fact it's impossible to talk about God non-metaphorically insofar as God is Himself a metaphor. Fictionmakers love God metaphors - last year we had Ron Currie's disappointing "God is Dead", a few years back we had the smart Jim Carey movie "The Truman Show", further back we have other movies like "Whistle Down the Wind" and "Theorem". In "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" John Singer, the deaf mute, the blank slate, the man who everyone talks to but who talks to nobody, stands for God. People pour out their dreams, fears & hopes onto him and he scribbles the odd bland sentence in reply and they think he understands all and knows all. In fact - and here's Miss McCullers' audacious vicious twist - John Singer is himself completely obsessed with another deaf mute who he thinks of as almost Godlike but who in fact is a fat greedy imbecile confined to a mental asylum. If we follow the metaphor along, not too fancifully I think, we find that Antonapoulos the idiot therefore represents the human race, with which God/Singer is fatally, poignantly, uselessly obsessed - Antonapoulos will never get well and was a sad mistake to begin with - so what does that say about the rest of us chickens? Not much. BRIEF ACTS OF APPALLING VIOLENCE Miss McCullers doesn't belabour this central conceit too much and she also throws in a ton of local knowledge but without smacking you upside the head every time like Annie Proulx does. And although this is a slow old read at times, a lot of doing nothing punctuated by brief acts of appalling violence (is this what the American South is like?), her sad sweet song of humanity is as beautiful a tune as I've heard all year.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Arah-Lynda

    I simply cannot get this book out of my head.    Like most everyone else I am astounded that Carson McCullers was only 23 years old when she wrote this.  Such wisdom and insight from someone so young is truly remarkable.   And there are so many great reviews out there, I just could not stop reading them.  A great many of them, as one might expect discuss the greater themes of this book and there can be no doubt that I too fell to pondering these many  things as I thought about the world today. I m I simply cannot get this book out of my head.    Like most everyone else I am astounded that Carson McCullers was only 23 years old when she wrote this.  Such wisdom and insight from someone so young is truly remarkable.   And there are so many great reviews out there, I just could not stop reading them.  A great many of them, as one might expect discuss the greater themes of this book and there can be no doubt that I too fell to pondering these many  things as I thought about the world today. I mean just think about it: Racial inequality and discrimination Economic division of the classes Subjugation and objectification of women and minorities Social Injustice War Still I would like to talk for just a minute or two about another constant thread within this story and perhaps the best way to begin is to tell you about something that happened to me.  Way too many years ago when I was still  in the early stages of my career I got a promotion, one that I had worked hard to be considered for.  It was an important advancement for me.  No longer was I only responsible for my own contribution but also for the output of others.  As much as I wanted the opportunity to lead, once I actually got it, I was a nervous wreck.  I’m sure my new boss sensed just how jangled I was and called me aside to have a little pow wow in his office.  It was a good meeting and he quickly reviewed some of the tools that he believed would help me achieve my objectives, but mostly he stressed that he wanted me to focus on one skill that his observations told him I already possessed.  The skill of which he spoke was listening.  He went on to add that far too many people forgot how to do it.  That people got so wrapped up in determining just how they were going to respond to someone or a given situation that they actually stopped hearing what was being said to them.   If you want to succeed he said do not fall into this trap.  Listen carefully and not just with your ears he said, but employ all of your faculties.  If you can do this he assured me, everything else would fall into place.   Well that particular job really did not work out so well for me and I soon moved on to a new opportunity with a different firm, but I never forgot that first pep talk.  Over the years that came and went I thought about it frequently and reminded myself often to focus more on what others had to say than on my own words.  And not just professionally either, but at home and in other social situations.  Wise words,  that despite floundering on more than one occasion, have served me well these many years. It is also what our five main characters in this novel yearn for.  Someone to listen to them .  For Mick, Jake, Biff and Dr. Copeland, that person was John Singer.  Despite the fact that he was deaf and mute they all believed that he understood them and for Mick he even provided a way for her to listen to her beloved music.  John Singer however, had lost his only audience when they took Antonapoulos away and even though he was never really sure how much of what he signed Antonapoulos actually understood, it did not matter.  He too needed to be heard.   There are so many layers to this story but through them all lay this need to be heard and to be understood. How ominous is it that I find myself reflecting on the art of listening  just one week before Donald Trump becomes the President of the most powerful democratic nation in the world. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is timeless, profound and a thing of rare beauty.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brina

    Each year I attempt to participate in classics bingo in the group catching up on classics. This year, so far, so good. I gave a lot of thought as to which classic book I wanted to use for my classic of North America square. There are a few authors that come to mind as classic American authors, where each piece of literature written by them reads like a story being told on one's front porch. The names Hemingway and Steinbeck first come to my mind, along with that of Carson McCullers. Distinctly s Each year I attempt to participate in classics bingo in the group catching up on classics. This year, so far, so good. I gave a lot of thought as to which classic book I wanted to use for my classic of North America square. There are a few authors that come to mind as classic American authors, where each piece of literature written by them reads like a story being told on one's front porch. The names Hemingway and Steinbeck first come to my mind, along with that of Carson McCullers. Distinctly southern and writing about the human condition during the era in which she lived, Carson McCullers is a literary treasure. My mother owns the complete set of her writing in one volume and I have previously read Member of a Wedding, which was a gem. It comes as little surprise then that I selected McCullers' definitive work The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter for my classic of North America square this year as her work comes straight from the heart and is a joy to read. I can not say much about The Heart is a Lonely Hunter that has not been written before. Taking place in a Georgia mill town during the Great Depression, McCullers writes of the trials and travails that occurred during that time. The town could have been her own and the female protagonist Mick Kelly could been McCullers when she was younger. She speaks out about racism, fascism, the rights of the disabled, as well as the depression, through the alternating chapters told through the eyes of her archetypal protagonists Singer, Biff Brannon, Jake Blount, Doctor Benedict Copeland, and Mick Kelly. Readers find a woman ahead of her time in that she views blacks, Jews, whites, men, and women as equals, and this was during the 1930s. Perhaps the fact that McCullers was all of twenty three years of age when she wrote this timeless novel speaks to her views of society in that her generation did not emerge as leaders until the later 1940s, when people did start to speak out against racism and lack of rights for women. Published in 1940, McCullers work was slightly ahead of its time and most likely eye opening for many. With blacks and whites, Jews and gentiles, unmarried men and women sharing dialogue in the south, McCullers work is refreshing for this era as well as the country has become as polarized as it was during the times of separate but equal. Each of her protagonists had much to say about society, and each had a plan as to how to better themselves and the world that they lived in. The world needs more people like Doctor Copeland, Biff Brannon, Jake Blount, Singer, and Mick Kelly. Yet, they are a thing of the past and many of their inclusive views with them. The literary world also needs more writers like Carson McCullers who spoke her mind from a young age. Her work remains as timeless as ever and her Georgia mill town an archetype for forward thinking people. Carson McCullers work should be viewed as North American classic writing, and I look forward to reading more of it in the coming year. 5 timeless stars

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lawyer

    The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCuller's Portrait of the Faces Behind the Masks The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter was chosen as a group read by On The Southern Literary Trail for January, 2017. This is the third time McCuller's novel has been selected as a group read by "The Trail," making it the most read novel by members of the group which was founded in February, 2012. Thanks to a former goodreads friend, I've learned I am only gently mad. It was a relief to discover that. Because my self-ana The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCuller's Portrait of the Faces Behind the Masks The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter was chosen as a group read by On The Southern Literary Trail for January, 2017. This is the third time McCuller's novel has been selected as a group read by "The Trail," making it the most read novel by members of the group which was founded in February, 2012. Thanks to a former goodreads friend, I've learned I am only gently mad. It was a relief to discover that. Because my self-analysis has been that I'm excessively obsessive when it comes to the love of books. After having taken his recommendation to read A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas A. Basbanes, my soul is somewhat rested. However, there remains the fact I have, excuse me, had four copies of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. I absolve myself for the first, it was a Bantam paperback picked up at the now defunct college bookstore, Malones. That paperback cost me lunch that day, even though at the time Krystal Hamburgers were only 25 cents apiece. For those not familiar with Krystals, they are much akin to White Castle. They are little, square, and served on a steamed bun, grilled onions,smashed down onto the little thin patty, and given a squirt of cheap yellow mustard. There are still days when I've got to have a Krystal. But they're not a quarter any more. My First Copy The paperback was read and re-read. Somewhere through the years, it vanished, perhaps the victim of a garage sale during a period I call my former life--BD, i.e. before divorce. I hope it least went for the cost of a Krystal, but I doubt it. Lonely Hunter was not the first McCullers I read. Professor O.B. Emerson, Professor Emeritus, Department of English, The University of Alabama introduced me to Ms. McCullers through The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories. That one cost me a sack of Krystals, too. That's all right. From my current waist line, it doesn't appear I missed too many meals. Dr. Emerson was a little banty rooster of a man, coal black hair, brilliantined to a shine that reflected the fluorescent lights of the class room. He considered McCullers essential to his curriculum in his Southern Literature course. From my first exposure to McCullers, I was hooked. The little man with the loud colored bow ties, outfitted in seersucker suits and a sporty straw hat made me a convert for life. After graduation, Professor Emerson and I would converse via telephone from time to time. He was gleeful to learn that The Execution of Private Slovikhad been made into a movie for television in 1974. I heard him click on his set and the ice cubes rattle in his Wild Turkey, his bourbon of choice. In my mind, I could see him with his books shelved floor to ceiling, all arranged, not alphabetically, but by coordinating colors of dust jackets. It was an aesthetic matter. I didn't understand it, and I took art. He was less impressed with the big screen adaptation of The Klansmanin 1974. Both were novels by Hartselle, Alabama author William Bradford Huie. Professor Emerson was a big Huie fan. He shared one thing in common with Huie. Both had received death threats from the Klan and had crosses burned in their yards--Huie, because of his novel, Emerson because he had Justice Thurgood Marshall over for dinner one night. It was Professor Emerson's proudest moment in life. He gloried in telling the tale. Since Professor Emerson introduced me to Carson McCullers, this review is for him. He died while I was out of town, some years ago. I missed his memorial service. I don't even know where he is buried. But I owe him much, because he imprinted me with a love of Southern literature. In some ways, I picture his life as one of loneliness, not unlike the characters you frequently encounter in the works of McCullers. But, I digress. I was supposed to be telling you about The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I'm getting there. We Southerners are prone to digression. It's a manner of story telling in these parts. My next copy of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is the edition pictured. The jacket features one of my favorite photographs of McCullers. My Second Copy The second copy was justified by love. Love justifies a lot. I just gave that edition away out of love for two of whom I call my honorary children, William and Nancy Roane. William is the director of a short film called "Old Photograph." It should premiere this spring. I play a hard shell Baptist type preacher in charge of a home for wayward girls. The screenplay was a collaboration between William and his younger sister, Nancy. I think they are two of the most brilliant and engaging kids I've met. He's going through the Fulbright rounds, a senior at Oberlin, and she's in her first year at Oberlin. Nancy is a natural writer. Her story, "Everyone knew Ruby," has been published. I've read it. It's good. Everyone only thought they knew Ruby. They found out they didn't when she committed suicide. It is William's next film project. I asked if either of them had read McCullers. Neither had. The central theme in Nancy's story echoes that in McCuller's The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. While celebrating Christmas and New Year's with them at a lunch, a few days ago, I presented them with my copy, inscribed with two quotes from the novel. “The most fatal thing a man can do is try to stand alone.” The other was, “All we can do is go around telling the truth.” Then I encouraged the Roane siblings to give the Coen Brothers a run for their money. I think they can. My third copy of Hunter is a beautiful slip-cased reproduction of the first edition from the former First Editions Library. I understand that Easton bought the company and that as copies in the series are sold, they will not be reprinted. Find this one, if you can. It's just a beautiful book to hold in your hands. The Third Copy Finally, I had to have the complete McCullers. I highly recommend Carson McCullers: Complete Novels: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter / Reflections in a Golden Eye / The Ballad of the Sad Cafe / The Member of the Wedding / Clock Without Hands The Fourth Volume of McCullers on my Library Shelf Although biographical influence is often scorned as a means to literary criticism, I don't think it is possible to fully explore some works without some knowledge of the life of the author. That's definitely true of Hunter. Carson McCullerswas born February 19, 1917, in Columbus, Georgia, the daughter of Lamar and Marguerite Waters Smith. Her birth name was Lula Carson Smith. She dropped the Lula around 1930. Her life was relatively short. Having a bout of rheumatic fever during her high school years affected her health until her death caused by a cerebral hemorrhage on September 29, 1967. Her life was spent in fits of creativity marred by acute episodes of depression. A good portion of her life was spent in a wheel chair. It does not come as a surprise, when you become familiar with McCuller's life that her literary works were filled with the unloved, the outcasts, and misfits. Nor is it any surprise that her works revolve around desperate attempts to form loving relationships and those relationships in which the lover's pursuit is one that remains unrequited. Carson began taking piano lessons at an early age. Her original plan was to become a concert pianist. You can find this experience as the basis for her story, Wunderkind. McCullers was a wunderkind until struck with rheumatic fever at the age of fifteen. She gamely continued through school to graduate at age seventeen. She intended to go to Juliard. She never made it there. She began taking creative writing classes at Columbia while working menial jobs. While in New York she met Reese McCullers whom she fell in love with too quickly and they married. Divorced once. Married twice. He was an alcoholic, prone to depression and ultimately committed suicide, wanting Carson to die with him. She refused, although she had attempted to commit suicide on an earlier occasion, alone. Shortly after their first marriage, the McCullers traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, where Reese found work. There, McCullers wrote Hunter. It was published in 1940. McCullers was twenty-three. She was a literary wunderkind. The book was an instant best seller, hitting the top of the market in sales. Critical reception was mixed. McCuller's title comes from Fiona MacLeodin her poem "The Lonely Hunter," found in From The Hills of Dream Threnodies Songs and Later Poems. MacLeod wrote: "O never a green leaf whispers, where the green-gold branches swing: O never a song I hear now, where one was wont to sing. 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." It is 1931. The setting is a small mill town in Georgia. McCuller's initially entitled the novel, "The Mute," as the central character is John Singer, a deaf mute, who can truly only communicate with his room mate, a Greek named Spiros Anastopolous. They have been companions for ten years, Singer working as a silver engraver in a jewelry store, and Anastopolous working in his cousin's fruit stand. John and Spiros can communicate through signing. However, Spiros becomes sick, a changed man, engaging in irrational behavior. His cousin commits him to an insane asylum. Singer is left alone, unable to communicate with anyone. With his companion gone, Singer moves into the Kelly family's boarding house. Mick is a gawky adolescent, unable to recognize the changes occurring in her body, unable to recognize what adolescents haven't yet done, the initiation into sex. She wants to be a musician, she wants to play the piano. Essentially she wants anything that she doesn't believe she can achieve until she begins to compose her own songs. It is with Mick that McCullers addresses the universal awkwardness of the coming of age. Singer no longer makes his meals in his apartment. Now, he takes his meals at Biff's New York Cafe. Biff's wife Alice dies and he is now alone. Jake Blount is a customer at Biff's. He is a labor organizer, an agitator. He is a Marxist. Blount drinks to excess. After meeting Singer, he speaks to him at length, incapable of understanding that Singer can't talk back. After becoming too drunk to navigate his way home, Singer walks him back to his room for company and to give Blount a place to stay for the night. Dr. Copeland is a black physician, disappointed that his children have not become educated but have been satisfied to take the menial jobs available to blacks in the South at that time. He is angry at whites, with the exception of John Singer who had once offered him the kindness of lighting his cigarette. Singer is the only white man who has ever shown him courtesy of any kind. The novel shifts from point of view, character by character. But Singer is always the central figure in McCuller's novel. Biff, Jake, Copeland, and Mick, all begin to regularly come to Singer's room where they confide their deepest feelings to him. Each feels that he understands what they say and feel. But he does not, nor is he able to communicate his longing for his former companion. Each of the characters who rotate through Singer's room wear a mask, rarely disclosing what they feel to anyone. It is only to Singer that they reveal their true feelings. It is safe. Who can Singer tell? Singer is almost the priest in the confessional. While each of the four have found their confidant, Singer grows more alone as he visits Spiros in the asylum, only to find that his friend has become more seriously ill with each visit. Spiros' death will be Singer's unraveling. Oddly, as Singer unravels, the confessing quartet begin to turn to others and bring them into their lives. Biff turns to his wife's sister, Lucille. Blount and Copeland find a common cause in discussing issues of race, politics, and class struggle. Mick and a young Jewish boy, Harry Minowitz, find first love after a swim in a nearby pond. (view spoiler)[None understand that after Singer learns his friend Spiros has died in the asylum why Singer would ever commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest. Each thought they knew him so well and that he knew each of them. (hide spoiler)] In East of Eden,John Steinbeck wrote, "Perhaps the best conversationalist is the man who helps others to talk." John Singer did that very well. In the years since its debut, Hunter has steadily grown in stature for what is now recognized as its brilliance. The novel is number seventeen on The Modern Library's list of 100 greatest novels of the twentieth century. Time Magazine listed it on its 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. Richard Wright, in reviewing McCuller's first novel wrote: "Out of the tradition of Gertrude Stein's experiments in style and the clipped, stout prose of Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway comes Carson McCullers' The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. With the depression as a murky backdrop, this first novel depicts the bleak landscape of the American consciousness below the Mason-Dixon line. Miss McCullers' picture of loneliness, death, accident, insanity, fear, mob violence and terror is perhaps the most desolate that has so far come from the South. Her quality of despair is unique and individual; and it seems to me more natural and authentic than that of Faulkner. Her groping characters live in a world more completely lost than any Sherwood Anderson ever dreamed of. And she recounts incidents of death and attitudes of stoicism in sentences whose neutrality makes Hemingway's terse prose seem warm and partisan by comparison." So, Professor Emerson, this review is dedicated to you. I don't have any Wild Turkey, but forgive me as I lift this shot of Gentleman Jack in my toast to you. I miss you. Yet, as McCullers said,“There was neither beginning nor end to this sorrow. Nor understanding. How can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?” Amen. EDIT: This novel was selected as a group read for the goodreads group "On the Southern Literary Trail" for April, 2012. It is shared for the benefit of the group, and, hopefully to draw interest to a novel that deserves to be read. Mike Sullivan, Founder and Moderator References 1. The Carson McCullers Project http://www.carson-mccullers.com/html/... 2. The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers by Virginia Spencer Carr 3. The Lonely Hunter from From The Hills of Dream Threnodies Songs and Later Poems byFiona MacLeod 4. A Review of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Richard Wright http://www.carson-mccullers.com/html/... 5. A Timeline of the Life of Carson McCullers http://www.carson-mccullers.com/mccul...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Samra Yusuf

    And here we are in the world full of probabilities, reasoning with the unreasoned existence, awestruck at the purposelessness of life, at actions with no consequences, at endings with no more re-beginnings, once we die, we die. Alone is our planet and so are we, some of us are more alone than the rest though, some of us choose to be so, for some it’s the only option. And it is the tale of chosen and of those who chose! A tale of love and of whom who seek love, of abandoned and espoused, of isolat And here we are in the world full of probabilities, reasoning with the unreasoned existence, awestruck at the purposelessness of life, at actions with no consequences, at endings with no more re-beginnings, once we die, we die. Alone is our planet and so are we, some of us are more alone than the rest though, some of us choose to be so, for some it’s the only option. And it is the tale of chosen and of those who chose! A tale of love and of whom who seek love, of abandoned and espoused, of isolated and integrated, of alienated and assimilated, and of whom, who were left alone! Every soul who breaths life, seeks love, to love and be loved the vain and only desire of humans, we can’t help desiring so, we can’t help loving those who gave up on us, we can’t help hoping against hope, and the torment one endures is never justified with any word of any language, but that forsaken love never perishes… The very essence of platonic love, is seen in the figure of Singer, our main character, It is one of the characteristics of ideal romantic love, derived from Platonism, that it need not be reciprocal; the beloved, indeed, may even be unaware of the lover's existence or the existence of love, love never dies of indifference, never diminishes by ignorance, but the relation of singer with Antonapoulos is not entirely of this sort, it is, in view of the latter's limitations, an approximation of it. Singer's love does not require reciprocation but it does require an object, we may never be in our lives come to see our beloved, but we want him around us, the surety of sharing the same sky can appease much, the certainty of breathing in same air is of comfort immensely, because love needs not reward, or love in return, it’s not an act that expects to be re-acted, it’s the whole life as we keep living, we keep loving ,and when Antonopoulos dies, his own reason for living dies too......... As for other characters, each of the five main characters strives to break out of his or her isolated existence. The reasons each character is isolated are very different: the deaf-mute John Singer cannot communicate with most of the world because he cannot speak; Mick Kelly cannot communicate with anyone in her family because they do not share her intelligence and ambition; Biff Brannon is left alone when his wife dies; Dr. Copeland is alienated from his family and from other black people because of his education and viewpoints; Jake Blount is alone is his radical social viewpoints and in the fact that he is a newcomer in town. The fact that Carson was only twenty-three when she completed this heartbreaking tale, makes it sadder than before, and I can’t help thinking, was Carson in truth, trying to carve a home god of her own, who would play silent and listen to her bruised heart? and history says, she didn’t find any, instead died at fifty with a weighty heart. who had so much to say, but heart........…remained a lonely hunter!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Rating: 4.99* of five A near-perfect book, a joy of a read, and a heartfelt "thank you" to the goddesses of literature for it. My review has moved out of the purview of censors and moneygrubbers to my blog. Rating: 4.99* of five A near-perfect book, a joy of a read, and a heartfelt "thank you" to the goddesses of literature for it. My review has moved out of the purview of censors and moneygrubbers to my blog.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    I read this years ago -before being a member on Goodreads. (Just forgot to post any comments)--Thanks to 'Steve' for the inspiration of memory! "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" one of those books that leaves a lasting tattoo on your heart forever! Not only does it take place during the Great Depression -during times of racial injustice -- not only do we 'see-feel-touch-experience' loneliness through a character so profound deeper than most have ever been written-- --but it was 'THIS' novel where I l I read this years ago -before being a member on Goodreads. (Just forgot to post any comments)--Thanks to 'Steve' for the inspiration of memory! "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" one of those books that leaves a lasting tattoo on your heart forever! Not only does it take place during the Great Depression -during times of racial injustice -- not only do we 'see-feel-touch-experience' loneliness through a character so profound deeper than most have ever been written-- --but it was 'THIS' novel where I learned the full beauty of 'feeling' music through sign language. A Classic Best!!! 5 +++++ stars!!!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is the debut novel by Carson McCullers, written when she was just 23. This classic American novel, set in 1930’s Georgia, sees a disparate group of characters make their solitary way amid the teeming life of an unnamed mill town. A world of ten cent stores, crumbling tenements, gin soaked alleys, raucous fair grounds and cheap neighbourhood boarding houses. This is a tale of the lonely, the dispossessed and those, who for various reasons feel like outsiders. The main p The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is the debut novel by Carson McCullers, written when she was just 23. This classic American novel, set in 1930’s Georgia, sees a disparate group of characters make their solitary way amid the teeming life of an unnamed mill town. A world of ten cent stores, crumbling tenements, gin soaked alleys, raucous fair grounds and cheap neighbourhood boarding houses. This is a tale of the lonely, the dispossessed and those, who for various reasons feel like outsiders. The main players are Biff, the sad and thoughtful owner of the local diner, Blount, an alcoholic drifter full of rage, Mick, a 13 year girl fast approaching womanhood and Copeland, a disillusioned doctor to the black community. At the centre of this group is Singer, a deaf mute - an intelligent and sympathetic receptacle for their hopes, anger and fears. Singer is a wonderful character, a quiet urbane gent who when not tending to the spiritual needs of his friends, is visiting his lifelong soulmate in a mental institution. This is a story primarily about ordinary, unremarkable people and their daily struggles, but it is also a book about bigger issues ............ grinding poverty, the great racial divide between the black and white communities and raw politics, as the hot seam of anger bubbles over in the minds of those who rail against the injustice that surrounds them. Anger that often deflates into a sense of hopelessness. This is a melancholy, often heartbreaking novel but the narrative is full of incident, the characters fully realised and the writing enriched by the lyrical, painterly eye of the author. An engrossing, classic read and very much recommended!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    By the time Mozart was 5, he was composing his own music and performing for royalty. John Stuart Mill had mastered Latin, Greek, Algebra and Euclidean Geometry by the time he was 8. Bobby Fischer won the US Chess Championship at the age of 14. When Orson Welles was 20, he directed his own adaptation of Macbeth as a WPA project with unemployed black performers in Harlem. Why I myself, if you’ll forgive me for crowing, memorized the batting averages of every member of the Cincinnati Reds’ starting By the time Mozart was 5, he was composing his own music and performing for royalty. John Stuart Mill had mastered Latin, Greek, Algebra and Euclidean Geometry by the time he was 8. Bobby Fischer won the US Chess Championship at the age of 14. When Orson Welles was 20, he directed his own adaptation of Macbeth as a WPA project with unemployed black performers in Harlem. Why I myself, if you’ll forgive me for crowing, memorized the batting averages of every member of the Cincinnati Reds’ starting lineup as a 12-year-old. So is it really all that impressive that Carson McCullers wrote this top 100 book* at the ripe old age of 23?! (Sorry, my humor never matured much beyond the days of Reds’ glory.) I have to confess that it was almost a distraction to read this knowing how young McCullers was to have written something so insightful, polished and world-weary. She managed to get deep inside the heads of five very different characters in a mill town in Georgia just prior to WWII and give voice to their many valid concerns. In the case of John Singer, the voice was purely an inner one. He was a deaf mute. In a way, he was the central island in the archipelago to which the others hoped to connect. Singer was a good listener (reading lips) and had understanding eyes, but there was a bit of Chauncey Gardiner about him, too, in that people assumed more of a Christ-like, simpatico alliance than was possible from their confidant. They didn’t realize how sad and lonely he was himself when his only friend, another deaf man, had been sent to the asylum. Singer’s hands (used for signing) became silent. Among the other characters, the adolescent tomboy, Mick Kelly, was most prominent. She’s said to be a semiautobiographical construct, which is easy to believe given her lanky appearance, her artistic sensitivity, and her advanced intellect. To me, she was a more human (read flawed, troubled and nuanced) version of Harper Lee’s Scout. She was written so powerfully – it was easy to ache alongside her as she craved more music (her big love in life) and peace of mind (that family circumstances would not allow). Doctor Copeland was another memorable character. As a highly educated black physician, he had few peers, but he had a vision for lifting his people and combating racial injustice. The lack of progress was brought home convincingly as McCullers did an excellent job personalizing it through him and his family. She was evidently ahead of her time, casting a critical, clear-sighted eye on the relations of the day. The two other POV characters were Jake Blount, a hard-drinking carnie mechanic with a Marxist bent, and Biff Brannon, a café/bar owner with a generous, aesthetic spirit struggling against alienation. They, too, bared their souls to John Singer as a part of an empathetic hub and spoke model. We get to know a handful of other characters, too, valuable for advancing the plot and populating the communal landscape. The Jewish boy growing up with Mick who fears the news out of Europe, Dr. Copeland’s son who finds himself on the wrong (black) side of the (white) law, Mick’s little brother George whose impulsive actions led to dramatic changes (most profoundly in himself) – they all had important parts to play. Things happen in this book, but I wouldn’t call it plot-driven. It’s mostly profiles of the people and reactions to the times. There was precious little cheer to go around. Faced with that fact, McCullers never did flinch. As one of the chaps in Spinal Tap once said, standing at Elvis’s grave, it was almost “too much bloody perspective.” Sugar must have been scarce in the Depression-era South – scant amounts to coat the world that she saw. But there seemed to be hope for sweeter days ahead. Even if I’m wrong about those hopes, this is an important and authentically observed book, well worth the time. *In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter seventeenth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Time magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. (Copied from Wikipedia)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Duffy Pratt

    I may come back and give this four stars, but for now I can't. I first started this book maybe two years ago. I got about 100 pages into it and stopped. I didn't stop because I disliked it. Rather, it seemed at the time a natural result from the inertia and momentum of the book itself. Basically, I wasn't quite sure whether I had stopped or whether the book itself had simply stopped and I was just going along with it. I picked it up again because I've always had a nagging feeling about it, and bec I may come back and give this four stars, but for now I can't. I first started this book maybe two years ago. I got about 100 pages into it and stopped. I didn't stop because I disliked it. Rather, it seemed at the time a natural result from the inertia and momentum of the book itself. Basically, I wasn't quite sure whether I had stopped or whether the book itself had simply stopped and I was just going along with it. I picked it up again because I've always had a nagging feeling about it, and because I hate leaving anything unfinished. And besides, the writing is very good, and there is quite a bit of promise in the book. Of course, all the promise turns out to be false, and that's pretty much the point. (Actually, I guess the point is not so much that the promise is false, but that it gets shut away.) The book is almost unrelentingly bleak. The main characters are all on the edge of despair. There isn't much chance of any of it getting turned around. And, since a happy resolution is not in the cards, most novels would push the characters over the edge in some sort of cataclysm. McCullers doesn't opt for that sort of showiness. Instead, she just further seals off each of her main characters from any possibility of genuine human contact. This resolution is even sadder, but for me it makes for a less compelling novel. I've read reviews of people complaining that nothing happens in this book. That's not true. There are lots of great incidents: a riot, a young girl accidently shot in the head, a prisoner losing both of his feet to gangrene after being put in the hole during a freeze, etc... But there's no plot. It never feels like any of the incidents drive anywhere else. And the wants of the characters don't lead to any of the incidents. It's almost like there is a complete disconnect. Similarly, because the characters are so unable to communicate with each other, there is also no possibility for drama. The characters kind of bounce off of each other from time to time, but they never actually interact. And again, I think all of this is exactly according to plan. But, for me at least, this plan doesn't make for an enjoyable work. And the bleak view of the world does not do much for me now. If I had read this book in my twenties, when i felt much more in tune with alienation for its own sake, I probably would have loved this book. Even now, I might want to switch my review to four stars because I can see that this is very well done for what it is. But it's no longer for me. I read somewhere a long ago that tragedy was for adolescents, and that comedy was for grown-ups. I hate to think of myself as a grown-up, but over time I do seem to have lost some of my taste for this kind of despair.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Traveller

    *10 out of 5 lonely, burning stars, light years apart, yet winking together in a shared cosmos. THIS IS NOT A LOVE-STORY! Not in the romantic sense, in any case. Somehow the title had always made me think it was a soppy love story about unrequited romantic love. There is love in the novel, but for the most part not of the romantic kind. Rather, it is a cry into the existential darkness that surrounds humankind, and in many respects it is a deeply political, even philosophical novel, which reminded *10 out of 5 lonely, burning stars, light years apart, yet winking together in a shared cosmos. THIS IS NOT A LOVE-STORY! Not in the romantic sense, in any case. Somehow the title had always made me think it was a soppy love story about unrequited romantic love. There is love in the novel, but for the most part not of the romantic kind. Rather, it is a cry into the existential darkness that surrounds humankind, and in many respects it is a deeply political, even philosophical novel, which reminded me of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. The existential futility of lives beating like waves upon rocks, reminded me of the poetry of T.S. Eliot. Alas! Our dried voices, when We whisper together Are quiet and meaningless As wind in dry grass or rats' feet over broken glass In our dry cellar ...And voices are In the wind's singing More distant and more solemn Than a fading star. ...Between the idea And the reality Between the motion And the act Falls the Shadow ... Between the conception And the creation Between the emotion And the response Falls the Shadow ... Between the desire And the spasm Between the potency And the existence Between the essence And the descent Falls the Shadow ... "Falls the Shadow" ...the dividing line between striving and achievement, between longing and possession, between moving towards and reaching, between wanting and having, between potentiality and actuality. ...for in Heart, there is constant striving that falls just short of the Shadow, just short of reaching its goal. Blind striving, passionate striving, where helpless humans blindly beat at the bonds of their existence, only managing to escape the fetters of class and gender and biology and society in their minds, in their hearts, in their dreams; ...and for some, the dream, the desire to transcend, the desire for agency, the desire toward actualization, and ultimately, the desire for recognition and understanding, is snuffed out like a candle in a gale. In this, the novel is a tour de force of characterization and of apt psychological insight. The book can be read on various levels. For example, the unseen pivot around whom the novel secretly spins, the Greek mute Antonapoulos, seems too much of a caricature of Freud's concept of the Id, for me not to see the relationship between Singer and Antonapoulos, as analogous to the relationship between the Ego and the Id. Virginia Woolf is one of the most subtle literary composers, capable of the most intricate patterns in her literary structures that I have ever come across. This novel has qualities reminiscent of Woolf's genius for structure. Mc Cullers' technique is perhaps not quite as refined as that of a mature Woolf, but it is impressive nonetheless. Mc Cullers herself likened the composition of the novel to a Baroque fugue, in which each voice is introduced separately to later form powerful contrapuntal harmonies between various singing voices, with four main 'voices' or melodies revolving around the central duet. The thread of the opening leitmotif that forms the exposition of the fugue, the 'center', the eye of the storm, so to speak, the blind mirror, the inert heart of the novel, is introduced to us initially as a gentle melody that runs like a subtle, almost invisible theme through the development of the novel-fugue. Brilliantly, when this initial melody is echoed in the other four melodies or voices, it is reversed; a mirror. This initial theme that remains at the center, almost hidden, is present at the climax of the novel - in fact, the climax of the center sets in motion the climax of the entire novel and causes all of the separate peripheral melodies that had been brought in, one by one, like in a Bach or Händel fugue, to each reach climax and spiral away from the center, where the fugue ends as an adagio sung in one of the most subtle of the voices in the fugue-novel. ...but the book is much more than a metaphorical fugue or a Freudian analogy; it is also a Marxist critique of not only the race relations in the American South but also a bitter slap in the face of the Capitalist North: "'We live in the richest country in the world. There’s plenty and to spare for no man, woman, or child to be in want. And in addition to this our country was founded on what should have been a great, true principle--the freedom, equality, and rights of each individual. Huh! And what has come of that start? There are corporations worth billions of dollars--and hundreds of thousands of people who don’t get to eat. And here in these thirteen states the exploitation of human beings is so that--that it’s a thing you got to take in with your own eyes. In my life I seen things that would make a man go crazy. At least one third of all Southerners live and die no better off than the lowest peasant in any European Fascist state. [...] Everywhere there’s pellagra and hookworm and anemia. And just plain, pure starvation. [...] ‘But!’ he repeated. Those are only the evils you can see and touch. The other things are worse. I’m talking about the way that the truth has been hidden from the people. The things they have been told so they can’t see the truth. The poisonous lies. So they aren’t allowed to know.’ ...‘Who owns the South? Corporations in the North own three fourths of all the South. They say the old cow grazes all over--in the south, the west, the north, and the east. But she’s milked in just one place. Her old teats swing over just one spot when she’s full. She grazes everywhere and is milked in New York. Take our cotton mills, our pulp mills, our harness factories, our mattress factories. The North owns them. And what happens?’ Absentee ownership. In the village is one huge brick mill and maybe four or five hundred shanties. The houses aren’t fit for human beings to live in. Moreover, the houses were built to be nothing but slums in the first place. ...-built with far less forethought than barns to house cattle. Built with far less attention to needs than sties for pigs. For under this system pigs are valuable and men are not. You can’t make pork chops and sausage out of skinny little mill kids. You can’t sell but half the people these days. But a pig--’ ...With three or four younguns they are held down the same as if they had on chains. That is the whole principle of serfdom. Yet here in America we call ourselves free. And the funny thing is that this has been drilled into the heads of sharecroppers and lintheads and all the rest so hard that they really believe it. But it’s taken a hell of a lot of lies to keep them from knowing.’ ...Less than a hundred corporations have swallowed all but a few leavings. These industries have already sucked the blood and softened the bones of the people. The old days of expansion are gone. The whole system of capitalistic democracy is rotten and corrupt. There remains only two roads ahead. One: Fascism. Two: reform of the most revolutionary and permanent kind.’ ...‘And the Negro. Do not forget the Negro. So far as I and my people are concerned the South is Fascist now and always has been.’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘The Nazis rob the Jews of their legal, economic, and cultural life. Here the Negro has always been deprived of these. And if wholesale and dramatic robbery of money and goods has not taken place here as in Germany, it is simply because the Negro has never been allowed to accrue wealth in the first place.’ ‘That’s the system,’ Jake said. " It is rather strange that a book so hostile to the political status quo had such a mellow reception upon publication, but maybe it is because of that uncomfortable hostility which made no bones about the economic, political, and ideological realities of the situation, that the candid commentary taking place in the novel was sidestepped by commentators upon the novel, so to speak. Possibly it was partly due to the fact that Mc Cullers was female. Maybe it is because she wove her narrative so masterfully, interweaving its multifarious threads and blending them in on many levels, as she said herself, like a fugue with interleaving voices and melodies. (Threnodies?) One is reminded that another female writer writing in more or less a similar time-frame, a much less talented writer writing in a shrill voice, a capitalist apologist in favor of supreme narcissism, writing under the pseudonym of Ayn Rand, received a much more marked response, both positive and negative. ...and speaking of female - not only does Mc Cullers utter a subdued feminist voice in the striving of young Mick, a 14-year old girl; not only does she subtly point out the fate of especially females from the poorer classes, but she manages to masterfully do a subtle sub-commentary on gender roles with her characters, especially with tom-boyish Mick, almost genderless Singer, and then a brilliantly done increasing fusion of genders in the leanings and yearnings of Biff Brannon, the dark-bearded tavern owner who starts to wear his wife's perfume and who is an adept needleman. (The male of needlewoman?) Biff Brannon, who does the most divine flower arrangements and who longs to nurture children. One wonders if the social commentary and political message of writers like Victor Hugo and Carson Mc Cullers sometimes goes almost unnoticed because there is so much emotive power, so much humanity, in their narratives. Both writers are masters at showing human pain in its various guises, but they are also masterful at showing us social injustice: the one showing a man effectively ending up serving almost a life sentence because he was poor and from the lowest classes and his family was hungry and desperately needed the bread he stole for them to eat; the other showing a man losing his legs because justice for white men and justice for black men are not the same kind of justice; the one showing a woman so desperate to keep her child alive that she ends up selling even her hair and her teeth ; the other showing a promising young girl who should have the world as her oyster, being forced to give up her dreams for the future because she was cheated by "the system". ... but one almost cannot help feeling that Mc Cullers would have understood if and why her work was slighted. After all, a great part of the novel is about people trying to get messages across, and failing, because their audience is not ready to hear that message. I like to think that she felt like Dylan Thomas about the matter: In my craft or sullen art Exercised in the still night When only the moon rages And the lovers lie abed With all their griefs in their arms I labour by singing light Not for ambition or bread Or the strut and trade of charms On the ivory stages But for the common wages Of their most secret heart. Not for the proud man apart From the raging moon I write On these spindrift pages Nor for the towering dead With their nightingales and psalms But for the lovers [love of the common people], their arms Round the griefs of the ages, Who pay no praise or wages Nor heed my craft or art. Because you, Carson, wrote for the love of the people . And it shows.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    Loneliness and isolation have been bottled up and painted onto the page here, in Carson McCullers' debut (and now classic) novel set in 1930s small town Georgia. Poverty, segregation, disease, and struggle are all themes in this southern gothic beauty, but it is loneliness that reigns supreme here, a truly desperate need to connect, and an ache-inducing inability to do just that. John Singer, a deaf-mute who reads lips, is the central figure of this book. He is a magnet that the four main charact Loneliness and isolation have been bottled up and painted onto the page here, in Carson McCullers' debut (and now classic) novel set in 1930s small town Georgia. Poverty, segregation, disease, and struggle are all themes in this southern gothic beauty, but it is loneliness that reigns supreme here, a truly desperate need to connect, and an ache-inducing inability to do just that. John Singer, a deaf-mute who reads lips, is the central figure of this book. He is a magnet that the four main characters (Mick, Jake, Biff and Dr. Copeland) are drawn to. He is the friendly face, the listening ear, the sounding board for their dreams. He provides a respite for their hopelessness. He's like a Jesus figure in the middle of a desert, offering cool refreshment. He becomes what each person wants him to be - an amazing magic trick spun by the simple fact that he does not speak. But what they don't know is that Singer has his own Jesus figure, his own centre of gravity - another deaf-mute man and his only friend, Antonapoulos - a self centred and piggish man who lives in an asylum. Singer's devotion to Antonapoulos is baffling and makes the reader question Singer's wisdom, as well as warm compassion for a man who seemingly receives nothing in return for the outpouring of his heart. So what happens if we lose our beacon, our life raft, and find ourselves alone, truly alone? Maybe she would think about a phrase of hurrying jazz music. Or that a bowl of jello would be in the refrigerator after she got home. Or plan to smoke a cigarette behind the coal house. Maybe she would try to think a long way ahead to the time she would go north and see snow, or even travel somewhere in a foreign land. But these thoughts about good things wouldn't last. The jello was gone in five minutes and the cigarette smoked. Then what was there after that? This book is understated in that there is no grandness to the plot, no spiking crescendo of action. The people in this book are not exceptional - they are real, living their lives, and they want more from the world than what they have been given. It's clear Carson McCullers grew up faster than most, given her deep understanding of the world by the age of twenty-three, when she wrote this book. A melodious, sorrowful tune plays through these pages - a tune that I'll be humming for some time.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Eerie and harrowing, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter thoughtfully reflects on what it means for the most marginalized of society to endure lives void of the possibility of change, love, or hope. Set in a Georgia mill town at the height of the Great Depression, the novel consists of a series of moving character studies; forsaking plot McCullers fully renders the rich inner lives of a small cast of misfits who fret about the future and share a common fascination with a Christlike deaf-mute man in the Eerie and harrowing, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter thoughtfully reflects on what it means for the most marginalized of society to endure lives void of the possibility of change, love, or hope. Set in a Georgia mill town at the height of the Great Depression, the novel consists of a series of moving character studies; forsaking plot McCullers fully renders the rich inner lives of a small cast of misfits who fret about the future and share a common fascination with a Christlike deaf-mute man in their town. The sense of despair pervading the novel is palpable and compelling; the writer’s commentary on race, class, and radical politics is sharp and maddeningly relevant.

  17. 4 out of 5

    da AL

    Hell, the title alone is marvelous!!! Great reader. A wonder of a book from an essentially child genius lesbian author that delves into so many issues as integral to when it was written as to now. Among them; how one person's struggle influences everyone around them for generations and how life can be beautiful in its struggle. This is one of a handful of books (ie books of Truman Capote & David Sedaris) that make me wish I phrased things as beautifully as southerners can! Hell, the title alone is marvelous!!! Great reader. A wonder of a book from an essentially child genius lesbian author that delves into so many issues as integral to when it was written as to now. Among them; how one person's struggle influences everyone around them for generations and how life can be beautiful in its struggle. This is one of a handful of books (ie books of Truman Capote & David Sedaris) that make me wish I phrased things as beautifully as southerners can!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dolors

    “Go, my songs, to the lonely and the unsatisfied, Go also to the nerve-racked, go to the enslaved-by-convention, Bear to them my contempt for their oppressors. Go as a great wave of cool water, Bear my contempt of oppressors.” “Go”, commands Ezra Pound in his poem “Comission” . And so I obey, and I go. I go and listen to the mute choir of the lonesome and the restless, of the disinherited and the excluded, of the alienated and the embittered. Isolated voices withering in despair, wrestling in in “Go, my songs, to the lonely and the unsatisfied, Go also to the nerve-racked, go to the enslaved-by-convention, Bear to them my contempt for their oppressors. Go as a great wave of cool water, Bear my contempt of oppressors.” “Go”, commands Ezra Pound in his poem “Comission” . And so I obey, and I go. I go and listen to the mute choir of the lonesome and the restless, of the disinherited and the excluded, of the alienated and the embittered. Isolated voices withering in despair, wrestling in incomprehension, anguished voices that interweave with each other creating a desolate fugue where only the tuneless can sing. A nameless mill town in the middle of the deep South during the thirties serves, not only as a background orchestra for these discordant voices, but also as the universal representative of the spiritual solitude that underlines the human condition. Four main characters struggle against different kinds of afflictions depending on race, class, age and sexuality. Thirteen-year-old Mick Kelly nurtures her passion for music locked in her secret “inside-room”. Mr.Coperland, a colored doctor, tries to control his anger against the submissiveness of his race. Jake Blount, an alcoholic communist wanders from town to town spreading his inner contradictions. Biff Brannon, the owner of the Café, sits behind the booth and observes it all, especially boyish Mick, who seems frozen into eternal youth. These disconnected individuals, eager to appease their escalating sense of alienation, pivot around John Singer, a deaf mute, whose grey eyes offer mute solace. “Speak against unconscious oppression, Speak against the tyranny of the unimaginative, Speak against bonds.” “Speak”, continues Pound’s song. And speak is what these four rotating “satellites” do while hovering around their beaming sun, their self-created icon, like blind moths being drawn recklessly towards the scorching lightbulb. They all turn to Singer like starving souls, pouring all their turmoil into his opaque face, which looks back with a peaceful glance, a glance that swallows it all. Despair, anger, shame, pain, emptiness. All of them gone, diluted in the indefinite wells of easiness emanating from John Singer’s being, who becomes the so much coveted savior, the embodiment of goodness and empathy, the guardian angel who listens and understands. “Mick Kelly and Jake Blount and Doctor Coperland would come and talk in the silent room – for they felt that the mute would always understand whatever they wanted to say to him. And maybe even more than that.” (87) But does Mr. Singer really hear the uneasy songs of his faithful “disciples”? Can he fully grasp the implications of their vivid speech? Oh, the talking. Isn’t all the talking less about communicating rather than unburdening oneself? Isn’t the soul after all, as Virginia Woolf said, a “wedge-shaped core of darkness” ? Something invisible to others? For what these lost souls don’t know is that Mr. Singer wanders the night as the most lonely of them all, imagining the face of his friend, his lover, the face of his only reason to keep on moving, his only reason to be. Love, even when seemingly directed at another, is often a form of egoism. What is then, the adored one? Only a blank canvas on to which anything can be painted, only a shallow mirror reflecting whatever is wished. As in a chimerical fantasy, these off-balance voices, enraged by events, at once bruised and musing, fixate on the make-believe scene they create in their locked minds and think they live, cheating themselves. “Oh how hideous it is To see three generations of one house gathered together! It is like an old tree with shoots, And with some branches rotten and falling.” As the trees in Ezra Pound’s poem, the condemned, the voiceless and the rejected stand staring at the abyss of their own incomprehension, in a world hovering on the edge of a Great War. Some will fight their loneliness with violence and depravity, some with sex or drink, and some – like Mick – with a quiet but fierce resolution to keep the beauty of Beethoven’s (also a deaf) “Eroica” engraved in the most recondite part of her soul. But mostly, they will be suspended in uncertainty, swaying between radiance and darkness, between bitter irony and faith, between music and silence; eternally bend in a double-edged posture where empathy can be corrosive as well as liberating, where one can imagine the other as a melody of life, or as McCullers appears to be saying, as a melody of death. “Wonderful music like this was the worst hurt there could be. The whole world was this symphony, and there was not enough of her to listen.” (107) ***** Note: I have had the pleasure to read this novel at the same time that my friend Tej and his criss- crossed comments and kind encouragement have made of this novel an even more intense reading experience. Thanks for sharing and building expectations along with me, Tej.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Samadrita

    Let's get this out of the way. Garima, Dolors and Aubrey's gorgeously written tributes to the spirit of this American classic have pretty much made the task of composing additional paeans unnecessary. So my review is only going to be a shoddily-disguised justification for upgrading an initial 4-star rating to a deserving 5-star one. No I didn't choose to accord that previously withheld star bowing to a monster named 'peer pressure'. The actual worth of a work of literature can be measured by the Let's get this out of the way. Garima, Dolors and Aubrey's gorgeously written tributes to the spirit of this American classic have pretty much made the task of composing additional paeans unnecessary. So my review is only going to be a shoddily-disguised justification for upgrading an initial 4-star rating to a deserving 5-star one. No I didn't choose to accord that previously withheld star bowing to a monster named 'peer pressure'. The actual worth of a work of literature can be measured by the power it wields over a reader once the last page has been turned. And this is exactly that kind of narrative which refuses to let go even after you have managed to extricate yourself from its emotional chokehold. I had believed the specter of oppressive gloom to be well and truly exorcized once I closed the book a few days ago, comfortable in the certainty that other pending items on the to-read list will monopolize my attention soon. And yet that didn't happen. As much as I appreciated falling under the spell of Shirley Jackson's dark and disqueting 'Hill House' or revelled in Erica Jong's tongue-in-cheek brazenness, a sort of inexplicable wistfulness came over me last night. I longed for the tedium of that nameless, ramshackle town in the deep south and that familiar all-consuming sense of doom shared by its inhabitants. I craved once again to listen to the conflicted inner voices of the forlorn quartet who sought to purge the spiritual turmoil brewing within them through the companionable silence of a kindred spirit. "She wondered what kind of music he heard in his mind that his ears couldn't hear. Nobody knew. And what kind of things he would say if he could talk. Nobody knew that either." The hauntingly plaintive notes of their emotional desolation reach me no more; the dirge has played itself over after all. But their untameable restlessness has seeped into my being unknowingly. I resent this inability to wrench myself away from the world of Mick Kelly, Biff Brannon, Jake Blount, Doctor Copeland and John Singer. I cherish it at the same time. And I want to live in exile in the company of these solitary outcasts, perpetually engaged in the futile quest of disentangling the mess of existence. There are layers upon layers to this book that reveal themselves once the post-reading rumination phase begins. At the time of its publication, the deep south was carving out an existence around a kind of fragile status quo almost in the same manner as South Africa under Apartheid was. My mind still fresh from MLK's autobiography, thus, Doctor Copeland's unwavering faith in a 'strong, true purpose' appeared as a kind of foreshadowing of the rise of a Martin Luther King a decade and a half later, a veritable leader fated to help instill a fierce sense of self-esteem in the members of a disinherited community and consequently save an entire nation from a dangerous identity crisis. McCullers's depiction of race relations is imbued with a kind of subliminal prophetic certainty that the already tottering edifice of discrimination and injustice cannot possibly stand for long. "For masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice." - Virginia Woolf And the above quote from A Room of One's Own is the final and most definitive reason for awarding this enduring classic 5 stars. It's not just McCullers's voice which rings out in mournful solidarity with the disaffection and thwarted aspirations of the central characters in this novel. Rather it's the imperfectly harmonized chorus of voices of an entire generation belting out a sombre refrain and asking for release, for freedom from countless indignities, for the assurance of a life worth living. "...in a swift radiance of illumination he saw a glimpse of human struggle and of valor. Of the endless fluid passage of humanity through endless time. And of those who labor and of those who-one word-love. His soul expanded. But for a moment only. For in him he felt a warning, a shaft of terror. Between two worlds he was suspended." The lonely hunters may have bid me farewell already but they have shared with me their wisdom and courage and taught me the language of their despair and feeble hope. Herefrom I draw my solace.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cecily

    Like most of McCullers stories, this is concerns lonely people living in the deep south. This one is set during WW2, told with strong musical currents (she had a place to study piano at the Julliard, and this shines through most of her work) and a radical passion against poverty and injustice. The language is generally quite simple in terms of vocabulary and sentence length, yet the characters and events are all the more poetic and vivid for this apparent simplicity - a difficult literary trick Like most of McCullers stories, this is concerns lonely people living in the deep south. This one is set during WW2, told with strong musical currents (she had a place to study piano at the Julliard, and this shines through most of her work) and a radical passion against poverty and injustice. The language is generally quite simple in terms of vocabulary and sentence length, yet the characters and events are all the more poetic and vivid for this apparent simplicity - a difficult literary trick to pull off. The main character is John Singer, a deaf mute. Biff Brannon (café owner), Jake Kelly (migrant mechanic and social activist), Dr Copeland (black doctor and communist) and Mick Kelly (girl of 13-14) all attach themselves to Singer, who is of course, the perfect listener for their varied troubles and a blank canvas for them to create him as a god-like figure of whatever kind they each want. The main plot is Singer's relationships with the other four (they have almost none with each other). The subplot is a coming of age strand regarding Mick: moving from passionate and ambitious tomboy to frustrated young woman. Each character who unburdens themselves to Singer thinks they know him and that he is something of a free spirit. None of them know that he is pining for the burden of caring for Antonapoulos, his former flat mate and fellow deaf mute, now in an asylum. In that relationship, Singer did all the talking and assumed that wisdom and empathy came from Antonapoulos, who largely listened. Now on his own, the tables are turned and he is cast in the role of wise listener. Singer's animated hands are redundant for communication - neglected and stuffed in his pockets. We all need a Singer, but no one wants to be Singer. All the closest relationships in this story, even amongst the minor characters, are compromised by literal or emotional distance or largely unreciprocated, though the characters themselves are not always aware of this. As well as sadness, there is often an underlying sense of menace, though when bad things happen, they are often not what you had expected until a page or two before they happened, making them somehow more shocking. Overall, a powerful and sad book, yet somehow not a depressing one. Despite much tragedy, there is always a glimmer of hope, arising from love and loyalty (even if it is one-sided). NB "The Mortgaged Heart" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...) includes an author’s outline of this book, which sheds extra light on the story, though some of her preliminary ideas were not in the final book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    I've been reading Carson McCullers for the last month. I started with this book and then picked up each of her five other books one after the other, leaving myself no time in between to think about what I've read or consider writing a review. Today, I'm glad that I didn't attempt a review of this one because I just came across a piece in the sixth book, The Mortgaged Heart: Selected Writings, entitled Author's Outline of 'The Mute' (later published as 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter'). Her own wor I've been reading Carson McCullers for the last month. I started with this book and then picked up each of her five other books one after the other, leaving myself no time in between to think about what I've read or consider writing a review. Today, I'm glad that I didn't attempt a review of this one because I just came across a piece in the sixth book, The Mortgaged Heart: Selected Writings, entitled Author's Outline of 'The Mute' (later published as 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter'). Her own words describe her intentions for this book so clearly that I'm going to use them in lieu of a review: ....The general outline of this work can be expressed very simply. It is the story of five isolated, lonely people in their search for expression and spiritual integration with something greater than themselves. One of these five is a deaf man, John Singer - and it is around him that the whole book pivots. Because of their loneliness these other four people see in the mute a certain mystic superiority and he becomes in a sense their ideal. Because of Singer's infirmity his outward character is vague and unlimited. His friends are able to impute to him all the qualities which they would wish for him to have. Each of the these four people creates his understanding of the mute from his own desires...In his eternal silence there is something compelling. Each one of these persons makes the mute the repository for his most personal feelings and ideas... This situation between the four people and the mute has an exact parallel in the relation between Singer and his deaf-mute friend, Antonopoulos. Singer is the only person who could attribute to Antonopoulos dignity and a certain wisdom... About this central idea there is much of the quality of a legend. All the parts dealing directly with Singer are written in the simple style of a parable. Before the reasons why this situation came about can be fully understood it is necessary to know each of the principal characters in some detail. But the characters cannot be described adequately without the events which happen to them being involved. Nearly all the happenings in the book spring directly from the characters. During the space of this book each person is shown in his strongest and most typical actions. Of course it must be understood that none of these personal characteristics are told in the didactic manner in which they are set down here. They are implied in one successive scene after another - and it is only at the end, when the sum of of these implications is considered, that the real characters are understood in all of their deeper aspects.... Carson McCullers then goes on to describe her plot and characters in great detail before finishing with some notes about time, place and structure. I was very interested to see that she had a musical structure in mind because I'd experienced the book in musical terms even as I was reading it. This is how she describes the structure: The form is contrapuntal throughout. Like a voice in a fugue each one of the main characters is an entirety in himself - but his personality takes on a new richness when contrasted and woven in with the other characters in the book. One of the other interesting things that emerged for me is the amount of material she eventually left out of this novel. Because I've read all of her novels and most of her stories at this point, I realise that she recycled some of those deleted scenes. Characters' names and circumstances have also been recycled which makes reading all of her work together extra rewarding. The reader begins to see the entire cast of characters as part of one big family and all of her themes as being connected. She is always writing, in one way or another, about inner isolation and the battle to overcome it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    WILLIAM2

    This is a novel of the American South in the decade or so preceding the Civil Rights Movement. The central character is a deaf mute of almost saintly demeanor, Singer. His story constitutes the narrative spine along which the stories of his fellow characters are strung. These include Mink Kelley, a 13 year old girl; Dr. Copeland, the unnamed town's "negro" doctor, who knows that civil rights for his people is in the offing but is frustrated and angry that his own efforts toward that end have bee This is a novel of the American South in the decade or so preceding the Civil Rights Movement. The central character is a deaf mute of almost saintly demeanor, Singer. His story constitutes the narrative spine along which the stories of his fellow characters are strung. These include Mink Kelley, a 13 year old girl; Dr. Copeland, the unnamed town's "negro" doctor, who knows that civil rights for his people is in the offing but is frustrated and angry that his own efforts toward that end have been ineffective; the alcoholic, Jake Blount, a carney whose narrow ideological Communism also leaves him frustrated and angry. Blount is in many ways the white counterpart of Dr. Copeland. Their thinking is similar on many levels, but their meeting of the minds is not a productive one. Biff Brannon is the owner of a local restaurant, the New York Cafe. He is probably gay, as may be Singer, whose mute roommate Antonapoulis is committed to an asylum in the early going because of anti-social behavior. There's a wonderful, almost unflagging narrative sweep here that is rare in my reading experience. McCullers wrote this when she was 21 and 22. I think her greatest gift as an author is her deep empathy for her characters. It is this empathy that gives the book its powerful emotional appeal. The novel is mostly rendered as straightforward chronology. There are a few flashbacks, but McCuller keeps these to a minimum. The action takes place in an unnamed southern mill town in what is perhaps Mississippi between two distinct historical events: British PM Chamberlain's appeasement of Nazi Germany at Munich (30 Sept. 1938) and Hitler's demand for Danzig from Poland (late August 1939). But these events are only meant to provide context, and the immediate threat they represent to the nation is not a major concern. It is the South. The hot, humid, muggy, buggy American South. The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is a classic and I recommend it strongly.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Garima

    Artistically formed constellations hold the promise of beauty and solidarity but Loneliness is that single star I once spotted on a dark moonless night. It shows the right way, they said. That caused a profound sadness in me for reasons unknown. Now I know. A little. What did he understand? Nothing. Where was he headed? Nowhere. What did he want? To know. What? A meaning. Why? A riddle. There are definitions galore for life and each one of them carries the trace of bittersweet truth which is har Artistically formed constellations hold the promise of beauty and solidarity but Loneliness is that single star I once spotted on a dark moonless night. It shows the right way, they said. That caused a profound sadness in me for reasons unknown. Now I know. A little. What did he understand? Nothing. Where was he headed? Nowhere. What did he want? To know. What? A meaning. Why? A riddle. There are definitions galore for life and each one of them carries the trace of bittersweet truth which is hard to embrace and harder to relinquish when the hunt for some meaning in the sea of vagueness is the last resort in front of us. With every new book I read, I try to gather the fragile pieces of such eternal verities which ends up in taking me two steps ahead and one step backward en route to solving a nameless, cosmic riddle. May be I imagine it all and one day I’ll find myself at the starting point with all the curiosities and confusions intact but till such eventuality occur, I take solace in the stories of all those hunters who were lonely in their expedition; in the stories of all those who knew. A cross between an exquisite dream and a harrowing nightmare, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter starts off like a simple tale celebrating the humdrum of everyday life, but as the pages of this novel treads the path of a new home, a different alley, a faraway Southern town and lives of four different characters, it excavates the treasure chest of voices buried in the reclusive hearts of those who were born and silenced during an inopportune time. The people dreamed and fought and slept as much as ever. And by habit they shortened their thoughts so that they would not wander out into the darkness beyond tomorrow. And yet this darkness brings out the moments of epiphany for youthful Mick Kelly. Music is her elixir of survival but she can’t hold it in her hands for an indefinite time. Darkness brings Dr. Copeland face to face with his relentless disappointments. His struggle against injustice, indifference and submissiveness is in a dire need for a guardian angel. Darkness evokes the horrific illusions for Jake Blount. He surrenders himself to work and alcohol to change the vision of a dreaded future and try to retain the scattered shreds of hope residing in his beloved books by Marx and Veblen. Darkness opens the tacit eyes of Biff Brannon who is able to see and observe more clearly the fogged image of confessional souls coming and going through his ever welcoming diner door. There was no noise or conversation, for each person seemed to be alone. The mutual distrust between the men who were just awakened and those who were ending a long night gave everyone a feeling of estrangement. This rampant distrust and loneliness makes other enter through a different but familiar door. The door leading to John Singer’s room. He becomes the pacifier to shun that ominous feeling of estrangement. A deaf-mute who is assumed to be there for everyone. His silence offer the much awaited consolation for the desperate sounds. He’s a supposed messiah of happy times and a listener of the forlorn. A sort of mythical mirror which reflects everything one wants to see and successively turns everyone blind to its truth. In the end, it all culminates into an unforeseen tragedy where one almost wishes to rewrite everything to save everyone from their ill-fate. If only such things are possible in life and literature. And this is where a reader comes into the picture. This is where a reader needs to stop and mull over the futilities and capabilities of their existence. This is where a reader realizes that being a person of solitary disposition is not always a matter of choice but sometimes ensues from an ironic stroke of time and destiny. This is where yours truly understood that Loneliness doesn’t go away by receiving few moments of compassion but quietly stay somewhere as a faithful companion and emerges when the weakness of human nature results into fateful accidents. This is what McCullers showed me and this is what I know at the risk of being slightly right but not entirely wrong. As for Ms. Carson’s writing, all I want to say that her prose touched the rustic chords of my anxious heart and composed an extraordinarily moving symphony which is still resonating in my ears and proved it once again that there is no dearth of noise in this world but only few things are worth listening to. There is no dearth of words in books but only few are worth reading. In this (she) knew a certain strong and holy gladness.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ted

    The book is finished. But not the story. All the pain, all the loneliness – Jake Blount, Doctor Copeland, Mick – and Singer – Carson has tied it all into a tiny little package, so small, almost a seed – and placed it into the reader, where it will now stay, maybe grow … but certainly stay. And perhaps blossom in the reader as it did in the observer Biff, who looked into the abyss. As I have. I move the book from the “currently reading” to the “read” shelf … and place a copy on one other shelf … The book is finished. But not the story. All the pain, all the loneliness – Jake Blount, Doctor Copeland, Mick – and Singer – Carson has tied it all into a tiny little package, so small, almost a seed – and placed it into the reader, where it will now stay, maybe grow … but certainly stay. And perhaps blossom in the reader as it did in the observer Biff, who looked into the abyss. As I have. I move the book from the “currently reading” to the “read” shelf … and place a copy on one other shelf … “existentialism wide”. Of course it’s misplaced there. I suppose. Or is it? It doesn’t matter, that’s where I will look for it. When I see it there I’ll remember the seed. In me. Thank you Carson. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Previous review: The Chess Opening for You Next review: Iberia Michener More recent review: Animalia Previous library review: Best of H.P. Lovecraft Next library review: Time Will Darken It William Maxwell

  25. 5 out of 5

    Duane

    I have read 8 of Carson McCullers books, and like the rest of the world I agree that this is her best work. It sets a tone that I found prevailing in almost all of her books, a sad and melancholy outlook on life, and being a young and impressionable eccentric in 1940's small town Georgia, I can understand that. This is her masterpiece. It was made into a 1968 movie starring Alan Arkin and it is firmly placed in the list of best American novels. 4.5 stars Side note: Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017, will mark I have read 8 of Carson McCullers books, and like the rest of the world I agree that this is her best work. It sets a tone that I found prevailing in almost all of her books, a sad and melancholy outlook on life, and being a young and impressionable eccentric in 1940's small town Georgia, I can understand that. This is her masterpiece. It was made into a 1968 movie starring Alan Arkin and it is firmly placed in the list of best American novels. 4.5 stars Side note: Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017, will mark the 100th Birthday of Carson McCullers.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jr Bacdayan

    “I am not meant to be alone and without you who understands.” The great burden of humanity lies in our need to be understood. Each human is a vessel of thoughts and emotions simply waiting to be poured forth to other vessels willing to reciprocate, each relationship a barter, an exchange of ideas and feelings, and so there remains in us a shred of influence from every person, idea, experience we encounter. Our lives a shared reality in ways we may not comprehend, a concoction of all impressions a “I am not meant to be alone and without you who understands.” The great burden of humanity lies in our need to be understood. Each human is a vessel of thoughts and emotions simply waiting to be poured forth to other vessels willing to reciprocate, each relationship a barter, an exchange of ideas and feelings, and so there remains in us a shred of influence from every person, idea, experience we encounter. Our lives a shared reality in ways we may not comprehend, a concoction of all impressions accepted mingled with the fear of those our formed identity rejects. Yet for a lot of people life is still a lonesome experience. Countless souls have spent years in search of someone to lend them time and understanding but have found none. Even those inside conjugal relations and tribal camaraderie still experience this feeling of solitude. Individuals forge relationships in order to find listeners but do not spare the effort to listen when it is their turn. And so convenient projections are created of each other resulting in fragile bonds that shatter at the earliest stages of conflict. Do we really have a thorough understanding of those we come in contact with on a day-to-day basis? The heart is a lonely hunter draws from the bitter isolation of individuals on their search for an outlet. Rejects of their own accord malcontent in the different paradigms they exist in. Four distinctive people filled with substance vastly out of place in their simple rural town and at the center of it, an ill-fated deaf-mute who accepts all and gives nothing. A political subversive, a racial activist, a flowering bud of classical music, and a detached voyeur all unload their lonesome bulks on a solitary and often confused deaf-mute. The projection of their ideal companion carelessly placed upon this unsuspecting sacrifice. All pour but none take the time to hear from their perceived equal, until this cracked vessel is broken due to its inability to unburden itself. Carson McCullers wrote this novel during her 23rd year. A lot of people seem surprised that this work, widely considered an American classic, was written by someone of her age. But this is hardly surprising, that timeframe of early to late twenties is a pivotal period in the human existence when loneliness is most pronounced. It is the time when we are forced to make harsh decisions that more often than not diverge from the idealistic dreams of our youth. This reality compels us to find solace in the shared misery of those around us who have also experienced the crushing bitterness of the world. McCullers perfectly captures the intensity of loneliness inside us when our failures float into the surface of our attention. This nurtured loneliness that plagues and torments never really goes away. It lingers and it hurts. Perhaps all we can do is share some of the pain to people who have chosen to suffer with us. “The way I need you is a loneliness I cannot bear.”

  27. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    Sing for the South, the Nation, the World Entire, for they know not what they do. Sing for the man with the matted suit and pearl-rimmed tongue, the rustic know how and the fine edged intellectual gait, the words, the words, always the words. He walks with his heart bound in a lexicon and pinned upon his mouth, and where he walks he sees the terrible secret and cannot keep silent. Long ago he stripped from himself his measure of complacent comfort, and now he wanders in a naked anger, ever seekin Sing for the South, the Nation, the World Entire, for they know not what they do. Sing for the man with the matted suit and pearl-rimmed tongue, the rustic know how and the fine edged intellectual gait, the words, the words, always the words. He walks with his heart bound in a lexicon and pinned upon his mouth, and where he walks he sees the terrible secret and cannot keep silent. Long ago he stripped from himself his measure of complacent comfort, and now he wanders in a naked anger, ever seeking those who would understand. He is a creature of self-efficient worlds, bound on the edge of drunken madness on one and a host of academic truths on the other, a jester screaming out the obscene reality to their blind and mulish audience. Sing for him, one who lives on a crust of a dream and pays the daily horror of a price for dreaming. Sing for the girl with the sulky dress and responsive love, the family blood and the soul-lined melody, the notes, the notes, always the notes. There is a stamp of genius on the muddled obscurity of her thoughts, and where she listens she hears the world and cannot contain it all on her own. In the beginning her time was her own, but now she must sell out the insides of her self for the keeping of kith and kin, all for a broken back, a broken brother, a broken skull. She is a victim of the monetary exchange, bled by chance of birth and circumstance of her gorgeous instinct, a self-made muse without the tools for flight. Sing for her, one who would offer life untold bounties and wondrous insight, if only it would let her. Sing for the doctor with the cultured plan and possessed ideals, the living symbol and the lived out potential, the means, the means, always the means. He would cure far more than the broken bones and congested lungs of his people, lead them to a higher ground born of wisdom and of faith bred on his affirming standards. His effort has been unceasing, both the gains and the gaps, the bridges built to sophistication on the burning sacrifice of those once stretched towards empathy, and always, always the enemy above and his beloved ones below. He is a priest of a creed that kills and cures in equal measure, and the promised land crawls with the vipers of inherited skin. Sing for him, one who grasped for the light with every breath in his body and found it only when it ran him through. Sing for the bearded one with the open door and contemplative eye, the mindful heart and quiet aesthetic. He out of all of these souls has found the safest harbor, and with this truth in his essence seeks to parcel this refuge out in any form acceptable. And thus there is about them an aura of a society spread enigma, as strange and mixed a creature as his own sensibilities of the gendered division, but one that he cannot for all his sympathetic overtures solve to the level of comfort he has found in solitude. He understands as fully as is possible, and doles out from his position of privilege the small pieces of acceptance to a world that bewilders him with its lack of his hard won kindness. Sing for him, a lighthouse in the dark neither fully submerged nor fully transcendent, and the pinpoint of bright bringing a few of the oceans of teeming wretches home. Do not sing for the deaf-mute. Say, and say, and weep, for talk is cheap to those blessed with easy spending, as cheap as the breath enters the blood and as vital for the ones oublietted by their different drums, and as heartbreakingly necessary. Say, and say, and pray that it will be enough. Sing for this land of ground out lives and barbed wire mentalities, the twenty-three year old woman who seventy three years ago saw and saw and wrote to stave off the seeing, the seventy three years that have passed with both so little and so much to show for it, the history that rhymes. Sing for the social organism of humanity and those who have been spliced off through no fault of their own, doomed to the rest of their days in the land of the free and the home of the insidiously amputated existence. And by habit they shortened their thoughts so that they would not wander out into the darkness beyond tomorrow. Sing for those locked in by life, for they know not what they do, less of what they speak. But if they listen, and learn to add their voices to the chorus of the common good and human soul, oh. There may be hope yet.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    This debut novel from Carson McCullers blew me away. She was 23 — only 23!! — when it was published in 1940, and her book is incredibly gorgeous and moving. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter follows a deaf man, John Singer, in a Georgia mill town in the 1930s. Singer is lonely after his one good friend, Spiros, is taken away to a mental hospital. Gradually, other people in the town come to regard Singer as a confidante, and we get involved in the lives of four people: tomboy Mick Kelly, who loves musi This debut novel from Carson McCullers blew me away. She was 23 — only 23!! — when it was published in 1940, and her book is incredibly gorgeous and moving. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter follows a deaf man, John Singer, in a Georgia mill town in the 1930s. Singer is lonely after his one good friend, Spiros, is taken away to a mental hospital. Gradually, other people in the town come to regard Singer as a confidante, and we get involved in the lives of four people: tomboy Mick Kelly, who loves music and hopes to someday escape the town; diner owner Biff, who is in an unhappy marriage; Dr. Copeland, a black man who wishes he could inspire more people to improve themselves; and Jake, a political protester who struggles with alcoholism. My favorite character was Mick, an adolescent girl who seemed like a stand-in for Carson. I took this novel with me on a recent trip to Georgia, and it was perfect, because southern writers are meant to be read in the South. (Carson was born in Columbus, Georgia, and later escaped to New York.) I was surprised at how modern and relevant this book felt. I admired how Carson wrote these characters to be so real and well-formed. This novel was an engrossing read, and when I finished I was sad to say goodbye to these folks. Highly recommended. Favorite Quotes "The fellow was downright uncanny. People felt themselves watching him even before they knew that there was anything different about him. His eyes made a person think that he heard things nobody else had ever heard, that he knew things no one had ever guessed before. He did not seem quite human." "It was always funny how many people could crowd in from nowhere when anything out of the ordinary happened." "Because in some men it is in them to give up everything personal at some time, before it ferments and poisons — throw it to some human being or some human idea. They have to." "I doesn't see my Father much — maybe once a week — but I done a lot of thinking about him. I feels sorrier for him than anybody I knows. I expect he done read more books than any white man in this town. He done read more books and he done worried about more things. He full of books and worrying. He done lost God and turned his back to religion. All his troubles come down just to that." "But you haven't never loved God nor even nair person. You hard and tough as cowhide. But just the same I knows you. This afternoon you going to roam all over the place without never being satisfied. You going to traipse all around like you haves to find something lost. You going to work yourself up with excitement. Your heart going to beat hard enough to kill you because you don't love and don't have peace. And then some day you going to bust loose and be ruined. Won't nothing help you then." "What I'm trying to tell you is plain and simple. The bastards who own these mills are millionaires. While the doffers and carders and all the people behind the machines who spin and weave the cloth can't hardly make enough to keep their guts quiet. See? So when you walk around the streets and think about it and see hungry, worn-out people and ricket-legged younguns, don't it make you mad? Don't it?" "You see, it's like I'm two people. One of me is an educated man. I been in some of the biggest libraries in the country. I read. I read all the time. I read books that tell the pure honest truth. Over there in my suitcase I have books by Karl Marx and Thorstein Veblen and such writers as them. I read them over and over, and the more I study the madder I get. I know every word printed on every page ... But what I'm getting at is this. When a person knows and can't make the others understand, what does he do?" "It don't take words to make a quarrel ... It look to me like us is always arguing even when we sitting perfectly quiet like this." "Doctor Copeland did not know how to begin. Sometimes he thought that he had talked so much in the years before to his children and they had understood so little that now there was nothing at all to say." "Wonderful music lik this was the worst hurt there could be. The whole world was this symphony, and there was not enough of her to listen." "Being mad is no good. Nothing we can do is any good. That's the way it seems to me. All we can do is go around telling the truth. And as soon as enough of the don't-knows have learned the truth then there won't be any use for fighting. The only thing for us to do is let them know. All that's needed. But how?" "But we are forced to sell our strength, our time, our souls during almost every hour that we live. We have been freed from one kind of slavery only to be delivered into another. Is this freedom? Are we yet free men?" "All I can say is this: The world is full of meanness and evil. Huh! Three fourths of this globe is in a state of war or oppression. The liars and fiends are united and the men who know are isolated and without defense." "How can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?"

  29. 5 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    John Singer, the deaf/mute. Biff Bannon, the cafe owner. Dr. Copeland, the Negro doctor. Jake Blount, a drifter. And Mick Kelly, a 14 year old girl who hears beautiful music in her head and heart. These are our main players, each of them lonely and looking for someone to talk to, someone who will listen and maybe understand. They all talk incessantly to Mr. Singer, who can't hear them, and rarely understands. Mr. Singer can only talk with his hands, and then only to those who can understand sign John Singer, the deaf/mute. Biff Bannon, the cafe owner. Dr. Copeland, the Negro doctor. Jake Blount, a drifter. And Mick Kelly, a 14 year old girl who hears beautiful music in her head and heart. These are our main players, each of them lonely and looking for someone to talk to, someone who will listen and maybe understand. They all talk incessantly to Mr. Singer, who can't hear them, and rarely understands. Mr. Singer can only talk with his hands, and then only to those who can understand sign language. So his only outlet is with another deaf/mute, his friend Spiros, who has been placed in an institution by his family. Carson McCullers took these five people and wrote a story about the human need for love and acceptance that we all recognize and empathize with. She encompassed racial inequality, the class system in America, young people with dreams, older people who had seen their dreams turned to dust, hatred and kindness; it's all here, written by a 23 year old author who surely knew something of loneliness herself. A southern masterpiece.

  30. 4 out of 5

    PattyMacDotComma

    4★ “Mick Kelly and Jake Blount and Doctor Copeland would come and talk in the silent room —for they felt that the mute would always understand whatever they wanted to say to him. And maybe even more than that.” 1930s. A small mill town in the US South, Georgia. John Singer is the mute, living in the dilapidated boarding house run by Mick (Margaret)’s parents. He is an engraver by trade, keeps himself neat and clean, and never speaks, though he did once learn. People looked at him so strangely that 4★ “Mick Kelly and Jake Blount and Doctor Copeland would come and talk in the silent room —for they felt that the mute would always understand whatever they wanted to say to him. And maybe even more than that.” 1930s. A small mill town in the US South, Georgia. John Singer is the mute, living in the dilapidated boarding house run by Mick (Margaret)’s parents. He is an engraver by trade, keeps himself neat and clean, and never speaks, though he did once learn. People looked at him so strangely that he gave up. He signs and lip-reads. He and another deaf-mute become friends and spend time together every day after work. Singer does most of the “talking” while Antonapoulos loves eating and cooking. “In the dusk the two mutes walked slowly home together. At home Singer was always talking to Antonapoulos. His hands shaped the words in a swift series of designs. His face was eager and his gray-green eyes sparkled brightly. With his thin, strong hands he told Antonapoulos all that had happened during the day.” But when the Greek has to leave town, Singer sits with his hands in his pockets, missing his friend and sounding board. Instead, he becomes a sort of confessor to the three people mentioned above, plus a fourth, the café owner where Singer eats every day. They each come to visit him in his room regularly to talk, to unload, to complain, to brag, to share a drink. He listens, nods, and if, occasionally, a response is required, he takes out his silver pencil to write on his little notepad. But mostly he listens. And because he listens, they all feel “heard”. He shows limitless patience, and he often makes a point of having someone’s favourite drink handy. But it’s all one way. He listens to the girl’s dreams of being a musician and even buys a radio she can come and listen to. Doctor Copeland is black and settles into his chair to make impassioned speeches to Singer about equality. The writing is great, the descriptions a treat. We have met Blount, stumbling in the café in a drunken, filthy state. The owner sends him out to the kitchen to get a tub of hot water and soap and clean himself up. So we already suspect he’s a little odd. “Blount was not a freak, although when you first saw him he gave you that impression. It was like something was deformed about him—but when you looked at him closely each part of him was normal and as it ought to be. Therefore if this difference was not in the body it was probably in the mind. He was like a man who had served a term in prison or had been to Harvard College or had lived for a long time with foreigners in South America. He was like a person who had been somewhere that other people are not likely to go or had done something that others are not apt to do.” And sure enough, his passion is about the state of the world. He could be talking today. “’But say a man does know. . . He sees how when people suffer just so much they get mean and ugly and something dies in them. But the main thing he sees is that the whole system of the world is built on a lie. And although it's as plain as the shining sun — the don't-knows have lived with that lie so long they just can't see it. . . . I been all over this place. I walk around. I talk. I try to explain to them. But what good does it do? Lord God!' . . . 'You're the only one,' he said dreamily. 'The only one.'” Really, Singer is the only one who has the patience to just sit quietly and let the words and the tirades and the dreams and despair wash over him. Young Mick Kelly is the one with the dreams, scary at first and later hopeful. She’s an itchy, antsy young teen, trying to find her feet. Her artwork is dark. “All the rest of her pictures were full of people. She had done some more ocean storms at first—one with an air- plane crashing down and people jumping out to save themselves, and another with a trans-Atlantic liner going down and all the people trying to push and crowd into one little lifeboat.” But when she falls in love with Beethoven’s Third Symphony after hearing it on a neighbour’s radio, she knows she must must must have a piano. The Depression is biting hard, and nobody has two cents to rub together, which makes a grim backdrop for this group of misfits, each with their struggles and fears and dreams about the future. Yet somehow, it isn’t grim itself. If anything, it’s a reminder that everyone needs - in fact, deserves - a chance to be heard. The author was only 23 when she wrote what has now become a classic. I found myself wondering how much of her was in young Mick.

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