My latest book on my 2013 reading challenge is The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.
Rating: 5 Stars
Carson McCullers wrote an amazing story that is dark, lonely, sad, and filled with beautifully flawed, complex characters. The book is very political--deals with fascism, socialism, religion, and the plight of the African Americans in the South. And to top it all off, McCullers was only 23 years old at the time!
The book is centered around Mr. Singer, a deaf-mute, and the misfits that gravitate to him. The intriguing part to me, though, is how McCullers plays with the idea of talking and listening. I wish I had counted how many times she used the word talk. She had people talking at each other, people talking with each other, people who needed to talk, people who wrote letters to talk, people who wanted to talk to start a movement, people who talked because they were nervous, etc. And to have it all centered around a man who couldn't talk and couldn't hear! The main characters of the book all had something they obsessed about privately. They were alone with their inner thoughts until they met Mr. Singer. Immediately they all sensed that he was the kindred spirit they were looking for. He had the face and the eyes that made him their confidant. They followed him, visited him, and talked at him. They always attributed to him whatever traits they wanted or needed him to have. For example, Mick needed someone who understood music like she did...so she believed that Mr. Singer could even though he couldn't hear music.
The sad point is when you suddenly get a glimpse inside Mr. Singer's head and he doesn't understand what they are all always talking about. He is not their soul mate. He doesn't even consider them friends. He only has one friend...another deaf mute who was taken away to a mental hospital. Mr. Singer begins to do exactly what the other characters in the book are doing...projecting his needs and wants onto his silent friend. Whenever Mr. Singer would visit him at the hospital, he would unleash his hands from his pockets and talk/sign feverishly. Yet, his friend wasn't the person who he wanted him to be. In one instance, while Mr. Singer signed passionately, his friend stuck his finger out and poked him in the belly. That is all that Mr. Singer got in response. Yet, he wanted to believe that he was his one true friend so badly that he was willing to overlook it.
Its like the part of the story where Mick is trying to make violin out of discarded pieces that she finds around town. For so long she really believed that she could do it. When she nears the end of the construction, she tries to strum it and is shocked into the realization that it would never be like the violin she dreamt it would be. McCullers writes, "But how could she have been so sure the idea would work? So dumb? Maybe when people longed for a thing that bad the longing made them trust in anything that might give it to them."
When the characters finally had a chance to communicate and have others understand them, they often couldn't. When Mr. Singer stumbled upon three deaf mutes, he couldn't think of anything to say. When Dr. Copeland finally connects with Jake (they both love Karl Marx and want desperately to start a movement), they have a moment of understanding. McCullers writes, "The Doctor's agitation and his mild and husky question made Jake's eyes brim suddenly with tears. A quick, swollen rush of love caused him to grasp the black, bony hand on the counterpane and hold it fast." Not even a page later, they misunderstand each other and refuse to listen to what the other person is saying. They become furious...violently furious...and never communicate in the book again.
Do we miss out on the true connections that could be had because we don't know how to communicate...to listen and to understand? And how do we begin to find those people who are ready to listen and who can communicate back to us? Or do we even want someone to communicate back with us? The bartender, Biff, is often given the same attributes as Mr. Singer. He is a listener and is always trying to figure people out. He tries to connect with the same people who are so drawn to the silent Mr. Singer. But they never reach out back to Biff. Is it because he has a voice himself? Do we really want to connect with people...even if it is messy and hard? Or is it easier to just talk one sided and listen only to our own ideas?
And how does a man like Hitler woo an entire nation with words? To have written this book in 1940, McCullers clearly is disturbed about this. Even as an author, she uses words to tell a story. She understands the power of words...and this book almost seems like her warning to us about what words can and cannot do.
As I mentioned in my 2013 goal, I’m reading mostly
women lit that focuses on women authors or complicated, strong female
characters this year. Here is the list of my previous book reviews that I've done on this journey:
First: Madame Bovary
Second: Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress
Third: Patron Saint of Liars
Fourth: Bird by Bird
Fifth: Frida Kahlo
Sixth: Women Seeing Women
Seventh: Bridget Jones's Diary
Eighth: Dorothy Parker's Complete Short Stories