9/18/10

Excerpt: Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

The Excerpt Reader isn't BIG on women writers.


Maybe because it is a he. 


This is not to imply any sexism (well, maybe some inherent sexism.. but that's not my fault, is it? Surely mankind can take the blame for a few on my faults..)


But seriously. It's not that I don't LIKE women writers. I don't know why it is, really.. I'm at a loss.


I think I can count on one hand female writers I've thoroughly read, from cover to cover, in the past 5 years. Going over the books in my library (there are more than a 1000..) I can spot out Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Sylvai Plath's The Bell Jar, Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise, Nicole Krauss' The History of Love: A Novel & Susan Sontag's Reborn: Journals & Notebooks, 1947--1963 (the last one doesn't really count as a novel, but all's fair in love and war..)Anyway, you try to find the linking thread between these women authors (or books), I sure as hell can't find any..


This is quite appalling, I know. 


But I guess I'm just a sucker for the Mainspeak, if I am to invent an pseudo-Orwellian term: The speech of Man. The Main Speech.


I like to read outside this Main Speech, sometimes. Some queer literature, some junky narratives, some psychotic thrillers.. But that's all within the norm, isn't it? Mainspeak's devoured every speech and made it its own, hasn't it? Even women's..


Is there any difference, then, between literature written by women and literature written by men? To be continued..


                                        ***


I've stumbled upon Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter in my local bookshop. I can't say I heard much of Carson McCullers before.. I have heard 
of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, though.. Well, at least I think I have..

This book has one of these catchy 1960's novel titles, like Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962), Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Some 1960's films have them as well: 
Sydney Pollack's They Shoot Horses, Don't They?Tony Richardson's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), etc.. So much so that you'll rightly feel that you've already read them, or seen them, before you've actually laid a hand on them..
So, what drew me to this book of all books, you ask? 


Well, the cover, for starters (have you ever bought a book solely for its cover?). It features a fragment from a very beautiful picture by the American photographer, Jack Delano, entitled 'At the Vermont state fair'.


And then the vague notion that I knew this title from somewhere (that must have happened to you more than once..)


This specific edition is a Penguin Classics (you know, those silver covers; they used to come in horrid-green, but they don't do anymore.. thank God!)


The back cover is also appealing. It features the image of a young woman, very liberated but somewhat troubled. It could have been taken anywhere since the 1930's, perhaps, but it seems highly-contemporaneous.


So much for the cover, what about the book??


Carson McCullers wrote The Heart when she was only 23. The 
book, her first novel, is set in the 'deep south', in a 1930smill town in the U.S. state of Georgia, and it relates the 
tales of a deaf man named John Singer and the people he 
encounters: Mick Kelly, a young girl who loves music and dreams of buying a piano; Jake Blount, an alcoholic labor agitator; Biff Brannon, the observant owner of a diner; and Dr. Benedict Copeland, an idealistic African-American doctor.


A small-town novel. Is is it??


Well, having read an excerpt from it, I think I can write a few words about it.. But first of all I would like to share a few insights about the time it was written and published in with the Excerpt's readers..


The 1960's mark a dramatic climate change in American culture. This change is also apparent in the literature written before, during and after this cultural revolution. Grossly speaking, one can mark American literature written before (and in some cases during) the 1960's as highly idealistic and naive, often too-pragmatic and much less subversive than the literature written afterwards


Naturally, there are a few distinguishable exceptions to this rule: Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (1961), Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962), Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle and Thomas Pynchon's V (1963), were all written and published the 1960's and remain, to this day, pillars of (post-)modernity, innovativeness & revolutionariness..


And what about The Heart? Here's a little piece of it. You be the judge:


"In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together. Early every morning they would come out from the house where they lived and walk arm in arm down the street to work. The two friends were very different. The one who always steered the way was an obese and dreamy Greek. In the summer he would come out wearing a yellow or green polo shirt stuffed sloppily into his trousers in front and hanging loose behind. When it was colder he wore over this a shapeless gray sweater. His face was round and oily, with half-closed eyelids and lips that curved in a gentle, stupid smile. The other mute was tall. His eyes had a quick, intelligent expression. He was always immaculate and very soberly dressed. 

Every morning the two friends walked silently together until they reached the main street of the town. Then when they came to a certain fruit and candy store they paused for a moment on the sidewalk outside. The Greek, Spiros Antonapoulos, worked for his cousin, who owned this fruit store. His job was to make candies and sweets, uncrate the fruits, and to keep the place clean. The thin mute, John Singer, nearly always put his hand on his friends arm and looked for a second into his face before leaving him. Then after this good-bye Singer crossed the street and walked on alone to the jewelry store where he worked as a silverware engraver.

In the late afternoon the friends would meet again. Singer came back to the fruit store and waited until Antonapoulos was ready to go home. The Greek would be lazily unpacking a case of peaches or melons, or perhaps looking at the funny paper in the kitchen behind the store where he cooked. Before their departure Antonapoulos always opened a paper sack he kept hidden during the day on one of the kitchen shelves. Inside were stored various bits of food he had collected—a piece of fruit, samples of candy, or the butt-end of a liverwurst. Usually before leaving Antonapoulos waddled gently to the glassed case in the front of the store where some meats and cheeses were kept. He glided open the back of the case and his fat hand groped lovingly for some particular dainty inside which he had wanted. Sometimes his cousin who owned the place did not see him. But if he noticed he stared at his cousin with a warning in his tight, pale face. Sadly Antonapoulos would shuffle the morsel from one corner of the case to the other. During these times Singer stood very straight with his hands in his pockets and looked in another direction. He did not like to watch this little scene between the two Greeks. For, excepting drinking and a certain solitary secret pleasure, Antonapoulos loved to eat more than anything else in the world."
Now this is just fine if you like your novels small-town, small-people, idealistic and moralistic..



In the Excerpt Reader's view, McCullers' novel belongs to the post-1960's stream 
of thought and writing..

But not to worry.. This does not make it a 'lesser reading' in any way, for alongside this novel one can find wonderful novels such as Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (1963), Saul Bellow's Herzog



Why the title, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter? I have no freakin' clue! And I'm not going to Google it either! You read the book and you let me know, how's that for abargain??


VERDICT: DON'T BUY A BOOK BY IT'S COVER

3 comments:

  1. nice blog.. have a view of my blog when free.. http://www.lonelyreload.blogspot.com .. do leave me some comment / guide if can.. if interested can follow my blog...

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  2. It is a he! :))
    And that is true about these catchy names from the 60's. I never thought about it that way...

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  3. Yeah, Lee. But i think it's not just in 1960's titles. Take John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956), for instance. I think Novel names are growing shorter and shorter as we 'progress'. This is more and more due to Google, I think, as search terms and notions are becoming shorter and shorter (max 2-3 words). What do you think?

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