The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

by Carson McCullers

This book starts out like the Richard Linklater movie Slacker, picking up & then leaving off with a different focal character each chapter. Right when I think that's how the entirety of this exquisitely paced novel—set in the 1930s American South—will go, it finally settles on five main characters to carry the story alternately: a tomboy, a deaf mute, a restaurateur, a Negro doctor, & an itinerant alcoholic Socialist. Three things amaze me about this book. One is that, while the narration is omniscient, it switches palpably in feeling tone & voice depending on which of the five is the protagonist in any given chapter, and becomes limited to/by his or her worldview & maturity. Hard enough to write a novel, says Classic Bitch, but The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is five novels in one, as it were. It's as if each of the five main characters has his or her own omniscient narrator that follows closely over his or her own shoulder. So when you consider that the god of a child would sound different from the god of a mendicant, would sound different from the god of anyone else (man or woman, black or white, healthy or ill, etc), then you begin to get the nuanced masterpiece that is The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. The second thing that's amazing, given this ingenious writing, is that this was Carson McCullers first novel, and she wrote it when she was twenty-three years old!? Preternatural greatness, to be sure. The third thing I have to mention is the skillfully consistent application of theme (see next paragraph) that is hammered home in its depiction in every single character.

At about the halfway point through the book, I think I figure out WHY the heart is a lonely hunter! It's because our VERSIONS of people—what and who we WANT them to be—are far more durable than people's ACTUAL character. (For a specific plot reference that is not a spoiler: Don't understand Singer's love for Antonapoulos? Singer projects onto Antonapoulos, and the world in turn projects onto Singer. Voila.) This book would be better entitled: The Heart Is a Flawed Lens. And the subtitle would be: Through which We See People as We Want to See Them, Not as They Are. Ultimately, everybody will disappoint we disappoint ourselves. Nobody is what anybody needs them to be in this life, so we project. Or, as Carson McCullers writes, "Maybe when people longed for a thing that bad the longing made them trust in anything that might give it to them." THIS is the crux of the book! And it is this theme that can be found throughout a ton of books on the list (The Good Soldier, Portnoy's Complaint, and most anything by Edith Wharton come instantly to mind, but there are so many others). It's found throughout art, and it's found throughout life itself. It is the strongest force in the Universe.