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Complete Novels: The Heart is a Lonely…

Complete Novels: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter / Reflections in a Golden…

by Carson McCullers

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The Heart is a Lonely Hunter:
This is a novel full of lonely people, missed chances, broken dreams and bitter ends. Yet the author keeps us all at arm's length from her characters, who are very well drawn, but who do not draw us into their lives. This detachment is essential, because otherwise the sadness would be awfully hard to take. I believe we are meant to engage our minds, as the characters themselves do so extensively, to assess what's happening in their lives, without getting emotionally involved. This means, of course, as so many readers have pointed out, that it is difficult to "like" or "care about" any of the characters. As each of the main characters is isolated from society, we find ourselves isolated from them. John Singer is deaf, and communicates minimally with those around him. Mick Kelly is an adolescent who closely guards her inner life, and engages only as necessary with the outside world. Biff Brannon is utterly conflicted and confused, unable to connect with his wife, or himself. Jake Blount is lost, unstable, frequently drunk, convinced that Marxism is "the answer", but unable to apply that conviction even to bring about a coherent dialog with another like-minded individual. Even Dr. Copeland, who devotes his life to selflessly providing medical care for his people, fails to love and connect with his own children. Something about this reading experience reminds me of the way I felt when reading Russian novels for the first time in my teenage years--fascinated in a Spock-like, almost clinical way by the lives I did not recognize or sympathize with. Now, my human half wants to chide them out of their existential funk by urging them to look around at the beauty that's out there...to love something regardless of whether you get loved in return...to make life happen instead of waiting for it to happen to you. So, no...I did not have a lot of sympathy for McCullers' characters, although I will admit to a hope that Mick Kelly persists in her dreams, clings to her music, and never lets herself lose access to that "inner room". I was entranced with the wonderful writing, the fugue-like structure of the novel, and the not-quite fulfilled promise of genius.
Review written January 2015
  laytonwoman3rd | Mar 29, 2015 |
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - A book about dignity. I can't believe she wrote this when she was 23. It has a wise old salt sort of insight into human nature about it. Very sad, but somehow affirming for all that. (Read early 2005) ( )
  jddunn | Nov 14, 2010 |
Member of the Wedding
This is a coming of age story about Frankie Adams, a twelve year old girl who lives in a small Southern town with her widowed father. Frankie spends most of her time with Berenice Sadie Brown who is the black cook for the family and her six year old cousin John Henry West. They are usually in the kitchen talking about whatever comes to mind.
Frankie is at that age where she is not sure who she is, she changes her name to F. Jasmine during the story, or where she is going. Early in the story her brother Jarvis decides to marry his fiancee Janice and invites Frankie to the wedding. Frankie decides that she will become part of their family and live with them after the wedding. She only tells a few people and Jarvis and Janice are not included.
The rest of the plot is how her plan for a happily ever after threesome works out. Using this story as a backdrop the author does an excellent job of following the meanderings of a twelve year old girl in a small town. Frankie has some very interesting conversations with Bernice about Bernice's three husbands. Bernice tries to impart some adult wisdom to Frankie but more often than not the child in Frankie rejects it. When dealing with John Henry it is Frankie who tries to appear the adult and is often outdone by John Henry's childish wisdom. All of the dialogue between these three is excellent and it gave me the feeling that I spent some time sitting in that kitchen.
There is an incident where a sailor tries to treat Frankie like an adult and ends up with a big bump on the head.
In the end reality is imposed on Frankie and she learns that she has to accept it. She turns thirteen and moves on a little older and wiser. This is not the type of story I would expect to enjoy but the author's writing skill helped me get to know and like Frankie and her friends. It stirred some of my memories from being young and living in a small town in the South. More than anything the author portrays the gamut of emotions and the silliness and pain of the bumpy road of growing up.
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe
This story is set in a poor one mill town with dirt roads in Georgia. The book was published in 1943. The story is told simply and directly in the fashion of the place and the people that make up the story. Woven into the story are a hint of mystery and a dose of magic some good and some bad. It is a story about love and what it does to the lover and the beloved. It's the story of how a cafe changed the life of a small Georgia town.
The plot centers around a love triangle of Marvin Marcy, Miss Amelia Evans and Lymon Willis. Miss Amelia is 6'2" tall and owns everything in the town worth owning. She is tough in a fight and makes the best liquor for miles around. Marvin Marcy was abandoned by his parents with all his siblings very young and carries the damage as an adult. Lymon Willis is a hunchback who wandered into town one day and proclaimed he was related to Miss Amelia.
Each one loves and is loved and each ends up alone.
The story is touching, poignant and tragic. The characters and their story left me with an emotional memory created by the fine craft and sensitivity of the author's writing.
Reflections in a Golden Eye
Carson McCullers dedicated this book to a young woman she had been attracted to and then rejected by.
This book is very well written but the characters are lacking in the humanity necessary to evoke sympathy and compassion in the reader. The book is set on an Army base, inspired by the author's visit to Fort Benning, Georgia. Captain Weldon Penderton is a brilliant officer on the way up. His wife Leonora compensates for his homosexuality by engaging in affairs. She is attractive but seriously intellectually challenged. Playing blackjack she has to ask if she is busted because she can't count to twenty-one. Her current lover is Major Morris Langdon whose wife Alison has been very sickly for four years since the death of their only child at eleven months. The child was born with deformities and her death was a relief to the Major. Alison's only real friend is Anacleto. He is the Filipino houseboy who paints watercolors and is trying to learn French without a lot of success. Ellgee Williams is a private from the South. Ellgee is closer to the horses he cares for than any of the people on the base.
Alison and Anacleto are the only two characters who appear to care for each other. The others ride horses and go to parties, going through the motions of living, without making any real connections with each other. Leonora and Major Langdon's affair has no passion or guilt. Ellgee is explained in the following passage:
"The mind is like a richly woven tapestry in which the colors are distilled from the experiences of the senses, and the design drawn from the convolutions of the intellect. The mind of Private Williams was imbued with various colors of strange tones, but it was without delineation, void of form."
Captain Penderton develops an obsession for Private Williams that grows to rule his every waking moment. Private Williams sees Leonora Penderton nude and spends his evenings as a peeping tom. The pace of events quickens with Penderton and Williams on a collision course.
This book rates five stars. Carson McCullers is an excellent writer. It is not a happy story with characters you would want to have dinner with. In 1941 there was greater significance in having a homosexual character in a book than there is today. The author skillfully places the reader in that confusing lonely place created by rejection for the offense of being a square peg in a round hole. ( )
1 vote wildbill | Sep 16, 2009 |
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A single volume collection of the celebrated writer's novels includes the complete texts of five novels.

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