Tuesday, March 10, 2009


The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers is another book borrowed from the Longmont Library's Classic Paperbacks section (for which I am so grateful, as it places in proximity a great number of books I want to read).

It's very rare that a book "sweeps me away," takes me so out of myself and out of the reading experience that I am "in" the book and no longer aware that I'm reading. And this book swept me away. I might at one time have said that the story was depressing, but even though its ending isn't a happy one, I wouldn't describe the story as depressing at all. McCullers' ability to evoke compassion for even the most difficult of her characters is really impressive, something I would love to achieve myself.

I understand there's a film version, and I can't wait to see it. I've been swept away by the best films I've ever seen -- The Seven Samurai and Goodfellas, to name a few (Goodfellas is seamless) -- and I love that experience of being out of my regular life and in the same world as the characters.

I want to seek out some literary critiques of this work as well, I'm guessing there are essays that attempt to interpret the story in symbolic ways, including the book's most enigmatic characters, John Singer, Biff Brannon and Bubber Kelly. He is almost Christ-like, but I know there are more interesting things to say than that. I so resonated with Mick Kelly's love of music, and it's funny, as I write that, I choke up and tears come to my eyes. There are times when I listen to a Beethoven symphony that I can hardly express the joy I feel, it feels explosive inside my chest. And I remember well the despair she feels upon taking a retail job; it is the despair I felt working as a technical writer in the junk mail industry, wanting so much to add my creative voice to the world and fearing I would never be able to do so.

The text on the back cover says the book is about "moral isolation." I don't know what that means. I just Googled it, and among the top entries are these definitions:

"...the feeling that no one else, dead or alive, understands us, which is a little more subtle than plain loneliness. It is alienation to its extreme." (From the Intelligent Emotions blog.)

That would certainly explain Singer's mysterious devotion to Antonapoulos, a man who seems to care nothing for him.

There is also this definition, apparently by Colonel John Boyd, which doesn't seem to me to apply to McCullers' novel: "Moral isolation is achieved when an enemy improves its well being at the expense of others (allies) or violates rules of behavior they profess to uphold (standards of conduct). Moral rules are a very important reference point in times of uncertainty." (from Global Guerrillas)

1 comment:

Dan Ford said...

Oh gosh, I don't see much of a connection between Carson McCullers and John Boyd! I can't say that I recognize the quote you attribute to him, but the syntax is like his--all those second thoughts jammed in amongst the first thought. For more about Colonel Boyd, see the roundup of books about and by him at War in the Modern World. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford