Saturday, May 22, 2010

Above it all in the hot South

I wanted to write something about The Heart is a Lonely Hunter before it fades from mind...

You can tell that McCullers wants you to like John Singer, and I do. Every other character, every other situation in the book is uncomfortably earthy or grubby or a bit too kitchen-sink-realistic to be pleasant: Biff mashing the tip of his nose with his thumb, the drunk anarchist, the fat deaf Greek, the awkward teenage girl, the uptight doctor, etc. All those characters have their fine and memorable qualities, but you don't really want to get too near to them.

John Singer is a breath of fresh air. He's always cool. He doesn't have any odd personal habits (that McCullers mentions, anyway). He floats above the action -- even the sections that are narrated from his point of view are a bit distancing, a quality I found refreshing after the hot and sweaty intensity of everyone else. Perhaps this is because Singer is originally from the cool North, though I don't think that McCullers views the North as being a particularly admirable place. But Singer is set apart from the novel by more than just his disabilities. It's like he's stepped out of another book and another setting: Brideshead Revisited or The Remains of the Day or something by Henry James. He's a character from a different world, dropped into this Southern setting but still retaining his alien nature.

That's fine. I like Brideshead Revisited. But would a character like John Singer really inhabit a world like Carson McCullers has created?


Emily J. said...

I have about 100 pages to go (should be reading instead of commenting...) and I'm with you on feeling distanced from the other characters. I like Mick, but just as I'm getting interested in her story the vantage point shifts. What I can't figure out about John Singer is why does he like the fat Greek? His preoccupation with Antonapoulos makes me question if Singer is not so wise as the other characters think. So is this book a long meditation on the virtue of keeping your mouth shut? (one I need to work on...) Or on how we make or try to make people - and causes - into who we want them to be?

If this book were written today, Baby would've died.

mrsdarwin said...

I thought that the reason John Singer was so attached to the Greek was that, for all the people who talk incessantly to John, the only person that John can talk to is the Greek, who understands sign language. I think that the Greek is to John as John is to the other characters: a sounding board who becomes what the speaker wants him to be. John is benignly deceived about how wise the Greek is, just as the others are benignly deceived about how deeply John understands and appreciates them.

I don't know if you've reached the passage yet, but John takes to keeping his hands in his pockets because he can't keep from trying to sign with them. It's how he communicates, and he has no one to talk to except Antonapoulous, which is why the fat fellow takes on such mythical significance to John.

Jocelyn said...

I like all those characters - but I'm cheating - I'm listening to an audio book.

It's great - all those characters come to life when read by a warm, supple voice.

The bit that made me spit my coffee was the girl's (Mitch?)attempts to make a violin out of a ukulele. That's because the ukulele is my personal metaphor for bearing up under adverse circumstances and soldiering on - I've bent Pentimento's ear on the subject more than once...

The audio book is also proving a boon on the household front - I sugar-soaped all the paintwork in the bathroom while listening to the first couple of disks. I plan to paint the living-room ceiling tomorrow while I listen to some more.

The only thing that made me uneasy was hearing a male actor "doing" a black woman's voice. It didn't seem quite respectful, somehow.

I wish I'd borrowed a text copy, as well. Then I'd be able to flip back and check things that I missed. Funny to think that in pre-literate times, people ALWAYS experienced stories like this. They must have had sharper ears and better attention spans in those day...

All the best to you all.

Jocelyn (Otepoti - but I feel a bit bogus hiding my name from you guys, so I'm dropping that. Please call me Jocelyn!)