"But I feel like I shouldn't be reading this book. Well, not like I shouldn't be reading it, but like you should be reading it." Ben says this to me a couple of days before I head out to sea for this most recent trip while telling me about how beautiful The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is, which he was then reading. I've bought the book several times when I've come across it at used book stores, always intending to read it but never getting around to it. Of course these various copies are scattered across states and various places, so when my friend Ian who had been sick wanted to go to Barnes & Noble to escape his apartment, I jumped and was determined to find a copy for this trip. In bookstores I turn into a weird beast who easily loses all sense and is tugged from one book to another and lost in a trance, so when I staggered to the counter laden with books, Carson McCullers wasn't with me.
And she wouldn't have been with me on this trip, but sometimes a thing's time has come and even my absent-minded stumbling and procrastination can't keep it from happening. On a whim I stopped in this bizarre Japanese import store they have in the mall, which I've only ever gone in before for the inexpensive electronics but as I was leaving I noticed they have a book section. Mostly Japanese titles but there was also a substantial section of books in English, most of which were only a dollar! I started casually perusing and noticed that there were some good books and suddenly remembered The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and bam! Only one copy, but they had it for a buck. Having a funny feeling while looking through the cd section next to the books, I picked up a Reba cd which naturally was the one containing the song of the same title. Personalized recommendation, song, and hard copy in hand there was no way around this book except right through the middle.
I'd bought so many copies of it because I liked the title. This is largely also why I kept not reading it: fear that the book would kill the title. Maybe that sounds silly or just ridiculous, but some titles hit me and make some vague impression about what the book the describe should be like. Not a clear feeling or some ghost outline of story, but just leave an impression and something in me worries that if the book's impression and the title's impression don't feel the same that it would be somehow disconcerting. I know this is crazy and it is mostly subconscious but certain books I feel like I have to have a reason to pick them up to get over this hump and this was certainly one of them. If someone telling you as they read a book that they feel vaguely like they are cheating because you are the person who should be reading it can't get you to pick up a book nothing will. So I did.
And I have no idea what to say. Wow. There is so much that could be written about this book. The cross section of the characters. The running theme of messianic projection or of the blurring of gender and racial distinctions contrasted against the community/individual enforcement of black and white interpretations of each. I hope to dig deeper into the different subtleties when I've got more time and be objective and not personalize the story or its impact so much, but I'll need a little time. Partially because there is the sorting out of what was meant when I was told that I should be reading this book. In a way that totally makes sense and I immediately understood and further understand having read the book, but like the impressions certain titles make on me, the understanding is subconscious and it would make less and less sense to me if I tried to articulate it right now.
But largely I've just got to deal with this book the way I have to deal with any decent Southern writer. Every time I read Faulkner I'm blown away by his writing and feel like my head has been both beaten up and revived. Emotions flood back and I'm populated by feelings that come at me like they are out of a different lifetime and from a different person, and in a way are. This is not to compare McCullers to Faulkner. They are very different writers, but they write in the same emotional landscape and it is the same landscape that I grew up in. So in a way I can't read these stories without asking which character I could have ended up like if I hadn't escaped (that is the right word and not meant in a strictly geographic sense). Few of these characters ever escape.