Tuesday, September 29

Book Review: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

About six years ago, a friend gave me a copy of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. The inscription said, "I'm sure this will keep you up late many nights like it did me!" Well, I can tell you that I did labor over this book many nights, but not because it was such a page-turner. My reading of this book was much more along the lines of, start reading, fall asleep after just a few terribly sad paragraphs. And I must admit that I never really finished it, even though I started it three separate times.

However, recently a friend in my book club suggested this book. It had been so long since I tried to read it that I had forgotten I even had it and went out and bought another copy. D'oh! Since I hadn't finished the previous two books for my book club, I was determined to finish this one. I wrestled with it for about a month before I finished it (keep in mind, I read ALL 2200 pages of the Twilight Saga in only ten days...), and I never, ever looked forward to picking it up. But at least I got engaged enough with the characters this time to keep on keepin on, and I suppose I'm glad I did.

Let me back up a little. This book (synopsis here) is a character-driven novel about a few different people in a dusty Southern town in the 1930s. Of course, the people are all poor: of pocket, gumption and spirit. They experience one terrible thing after another. Then, just when you think the worst has befallen them, something manages to top even that. Sheesh. It was about the saddest thing I've ever read.

As I researched the book to tell you about it, I learned why it was so sad... it is part of the Southern Gothic genre, of which I knew naught... probably because it's so stinking sad and depressing! This is the way some of my Southern family members grew up and have tried their darndest to shield me from it! Why would I want to read about it? Why should I is a whole other question completely which is why I perservered...

I do like a sad story from time to time, like Atonement, Brokeback Mountain, or White Oleander (they were all books first)... but really, there wasn't much a plot to The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. While each person was struggling individually, there was no over-arching story line to bring it together... just misery on top of misery, sometimes overlapping, sometimes solitary. The hear is a LONELY hunter, you know. And then, just when McCullers would foreshadow some juicy tidbit of information about one character just enough to keep you reading, she never brought the goods forth! 50 pages from the end, I looked up how it ended. I know! I'm a cheater! But I was looking for something, anything to give me some hope about the ending. Well, when I read how it ended, I just about threw the book out the window. But I figured I'd wacked my way through 208 pages of this giant bush so far that I might as well go on to the finish.

Now as I WAS shielded from this type of thing growing up, I did appreciate the slices of life it showed to me. And mostly, it recharged the gratitude I have for my sweet life for about the next fifty years. My life is filled with joy, light, contenment and happiness, peppered with moments of elation, irritation, worry, woe and ecstacy. So, now that I've been exposed to the genre, don't expect for me to be reading any more Southern Gothic novels for a while (unless Pat Conroy is considered Southern Gothic. I love his work and he has the first new book out in fourteen years!)... and if you decide to try one, don't say you weren't warned. But, if you do start one and manage to finish it, you might not be sad you did.


Rachael said...

I picked this book up over the summer at a used bookstore that always has an excellent selection of southern literature/authors. And I had the exact same reaction as you. I was probably 100 pages from the end when I just gave up because I kept waiting for something monumental to happen, and it didn't. I really, really wanted to like it and will probably get through it at some point! I am so relieved to read your review.

Swestie said...

Thanks, Rachael. Glad to know I'm not the only one out there!

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