Thursday, February 03, 2005

50 in 05: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

#3: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers. I have, apparently, joined Oprah's Book Club. Thanks a lot, Amy.

I started this one from my search of a coming-of-age stories about girls. There's an aspect of that to this story, but I probably wouldn't have thought of it that way on my own. The one thing I wanted more of from this book was Mick--she's entering high school and leaving the inside room for the outside room with a depressing inevitability the further along you read. Carson McCullers is on the cover of my copy, sitting in the woods and thinking about the fact that she wrote such a beautiful, melancholy, hopeful book (and isn't that the best kind of hope?) at twenty-three. She puts language together in a way that carries a depth I don't think you can catch on a single read-through--but at the same time, re-reading this book any time soon is daunting and a little depressing. This is one I want to revisit, but maybe a few years down the road. Maybe a lot of years down the road. She seems to paint pictures that make sense in a dreamy sort of way, and I'm glad she trusted herself enough to do that. On page 198: "The winter afternoons glowed with a hazy lemon light and the shadows were a delicate blue." And page 273: "Harry held his stuffed egg and mashed the yellow with his thumb. What did that make her remember? She heard herself breathe." And almost at the end, on page 350: "He would not leave the South. That was one clear thing. There was hope in him, and soon perhaps the outline of his journey would take form."

The POV shifts between five characters and I was often anxious for it to return to my favorites. But all the same, the whole story couldn't have been told without the insight into each character's mind . . . the sheer aloneness of each character and the search they didn't know the others were on wouldn't have been clear, and the sadness inherent to the story wouldn't ache quite so much as it does. It's a hard, heavy ache, but a good one all the same. Carson, as a storyteller, dips into and out of memory in a way that is impressive and assumes the reader will be able to catch it. I'm glad she trusted herself enough to do that, too. Especially on page 273 up above.

I talked with my friend Melissa about this a few days ago. She's re-reading it after seeing it for the first time in high school. She said her high school teacher thought Mick was hiding a sexual awareness, but I have to disagree. I think Mick's reaction to her first time with Harry carry the weight of a full awareness of sex that Mick would have had if she had experienced sex beforehand. All the same, Biff is a pretty creepy character at times--and at other times very lovely and endearing. And that's an impressive trick for a storyteller.

The book is a real Georgia kind of story . . . maybe it's a real Southern kind of story, and I just don't know it. But it's slow and rich and subtle and deep, so that you won't know how much it means to you until long after you've read it. I feel like this is one of the ones that will be sitting in my brain for a long, long time.

(Twenty-three . . . good lord.)

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