The image on the cover is Carson McCullers.
At my classics book club last night, one of the women had not had a chance to read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (published 1940), but she came to hear the discussion about it nonetheless. She was not familiar with the book, and as we discussed it, she commented on how strange it all sounded.
“It sounds like it’s about a bunch of misfits that no one listens to,” she said.
We all concurred. And yet, such a summary does not do justice to the complexities that 23-year-old Carson McCullers captured in her debut novel, a small snapshot of life in a small Southern town in the Great Depression era.
“Snapshot” is the wrong word, however. McCullers herself was a musician (passing up her acceptance to Julliard for lack of money) and she dubbed her novel a “fugue.”
“Like a voice in a fugue, each one of the main characters is an entity in himself – but his personality takes on a new richness when contrasted and woven in with the other characters in the book.” (Quoted on the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt study guide)
Such is the set up of the book: four lonely people in a small town turn to the only man who seems to care about them, the deaf and mute John Singer. Ironically, this deaf-mute is the only one who “listens” to their concerns and stories. He can read lips, and he is able to speak (he was trained as a child) yet simply chooses not to respond in the conversations he has with the “lonely hunters” who visit him. He responds simply with a smile and a nod. Each chapter focuses on one of the “lonely hunters,” alternating among all of them, including the deaf-mute, who, despite his appearance as a confessor and friend for the others, is in actually the loneliest of them all.
I was a skeptic. I had heard the hype and still I avoided The Help by Kathryn Stockett. My book club decided to discuss it this month and I grudgingly put a hold for it at the library. The hold came in and I let it sit on my TBR shelf for a week before I finally picked it up one night at 10 p.m., with a sigh, and began to read. I figured I’d read until I got bored or fell asleep.
And then I read until an embarrassingly late hour. I couldn’t put it down. The next day, I persuaded my toddler to take a nap. Then, instead of taking a needed nap myself, I finished the book. This was a book I wanted to keep reading. I wanted to see what happened.
The Help has flaws. It is not a perfect novel in any way. But I really enjoyed reading it, and the themes it addresses and the way it is written (for the most part) all work together to bring me into it and make it a page-turner.
I mentioned at the beginning of the month that I first “got” poetry when I heard a presentation by the poet Andrew Hudgins, so I thought I’d take National Poetry Month to revisit some of his poetry.
Now, I’m a beginner at poetry. I don’t know how to write about it clearly and I don’t know how to interpret it “properly.” What I like about the poems in Babylon in a Jar, is that many of them don’t seem to need “interpreting.” Hudgins writes frankly and many of the poems are approachable simply as they are. Others have a bit of depth that I enjoy but that I’d rather not try to detail for you – simply because I’m probably “wrong” and don’t want to embarrass myself! (more…)
To understand Flannery O’Connor’s short stories is understand the rural South that she was familiar with in the pre-1970s. Her stories focus on aspects character in human, every-day situations all revolving around her South, dealing with race relations, Christianity, rural versus city living, parent-child relationships, etc. She brings the reader into the settings by capturing thought processes, a style I found engaging. I enjoyed reading her stories, although they illustrated a lack of hope in human nature. (more…)
Harper Lee wrote one novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, and it won the Pulitzer prize in 1961. Its themes still resonate with readers and her novel has become a part of our culture. That, I believe, is success.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee almost perfectly captures the main challenge of growing up: realizing human nature, both good and bad.
(I say “almost” perfect because I am sure there are faults in the novel, but I love this novel so much that I don’t want to search for them.) (more…)