The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, penned by Carson McCullers in 1940, is a book I just happened to cherry pick off of The Modern Library’s 100 Best novel list. I had no previous knowledge of the book aside from the title. I had no clue who Carson McCullers was. If you had mentioned the name, I would think she were a man. I found her to be a brilliant writer.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is equal parts bright and dim, uplifting and wrenching, healing and wounding. The story follows five characters living in a small city in Georgia in the 1930s. It explores human relationships. Friendships, marriages, parent/child relationships, racial and social tensions of the time. How people interact with each other. It is a jarring narrative full of very real people and real conversations. Richard Wright, black author whose works include Black Boy and Native Son, reviewed Ms. McCullers book, and had this to say in the August 1940 issue of the New Republic,
“To me the most impressive aspect of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is the astonishing humanity that enables a white writer, for the first time in Southern fiction, to handle Negro characters with as much ease and justice as those of her own race. This cannot be accounted for stylistically or politcally; it seems to stem from an attitude toward life which enables Miss McCullers to rise above the pressures of her environment and embrace white and black humanity in one sweep of apprehension and tenderness.”
At first, most of the attention is given to the first character we are introduced to, a deaf-mute named John Singer. Soon thereafter, we are introduced to Mr. Singer’s best friend, another deaf-mute by the name of Spiros Antonapoulos. Slowly, we are introduced to a small cast of main characters, all from different walks of life, that all feel drawn to Mr. Singer for one reason or another.
The plot takes a few turns that I did not necessarily see coming, and that if mentioned here, would ruin the story, so I will keep this short and sweet. The themes in the story resonated intensely with me. The lonely heart will always be hungry for understanding … for companionship. We all long to be understood. We all yearn for people to listen to our heart’s concerns and love us. But not everyone can understand us. This is sad, but the truth. We can just try our best to live with one another, and love one another. Because when it really comes down to it, we are all on the same boat.
Alan Arkin starred in the big screen adaptation in 1968, which garnered a handful of nominations, including one for Arkin (Best Actor in a Leading Role). I would certainly give the movie a try after reading the book … and I certainly recommend the book.