Review: ‘The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter’


The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

By Carson McCullers

  • Date finished: July 14, 2013
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Year: 1940
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Summer 2013, Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels, Newsweek’s Top 100 Books
  • Grade: A
  • Thoughts upon reading:

For a long time, I’ve seen The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter at bookstores, at the library and on reading lists, and yet, I couldn’t find reason enough to read it. Good thing I have a knack for finding good books for cheap, because this chance buy at a library book sale introduced me to one of the finest Southern writers I’ve been lucky enough to read.

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter tells the story of five misfits in a Georgian town sometime during the 1930’s. All of them are connected by their powerful though selfish relationship with the town mute, John Singer. All of them, including Singer, have their own problems. Mick is a 15-year-old tomboy living in poverty who dreams of being a composer. Biff owns the town’s 24-hour cafe. Jake Blount is an ardent Communist and a drunk. Dr. Copeland is the town’s black doctor with radical dreams. All four of these individuals pour their heart out to Singer, believing the mute to understand their frustration, while he simply longs for the company of a long-lost friend.

McCullers has been lauded time and again for her prose and I have to say I agree with all the praise. So much so, I’m surprised I haven’t learned more about this woman before (I did take a Southern literature course in college; granted, I did attend college in Ohio). McCullers paints a sensitive portrait of these five individuals, and lends their struggles, hopes and fears a humanity others might ignore.

The book doesn’t necessarily end *well*, which is why I write this review not with gushing enthusiasm (“OMG, I just read the most amazing book!”), but instead, I’m feeling rather introspective. Which isn’t a bad thing. I wish I could just put my finger on what I’m supposed to know after finishing this book. If anything, I think the last page gives us the best hint:

Then suddenly he felt a quickening in him. His heart turned and he leaned his back against the counter for support. For 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 the two worlds he was suspended. He saw that he was looking at his own face in the counter glass before him. Sweat glistened on his temples and his face was contorted. One eye was opened wider than the other. The left eye delved narrowly into the past while the right gazed wide and affrighted into a future of blackness, error and ruin. And he was suspended between radiance and darkness. Between bitter irony and faith.

If anything, this book reminded me of all the good books out there. Just waiting to be read. If only I could find more of these.


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