nevermoreraven: Photo of ravens sitting in rafters (Default)
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers is a depressed book.
Yes, you heard that right.  It's not a typo or mistake.  It's not because it's a depressing book (although that is true).  It's not because it's a book that talks about depressed characters (although that is also probably true).  It's also not a book about dealing with depression (because nothing gets resolved in the end).  The book itself is depressed.
Now, before I get to what I mean by that, let's talk about what the book did right.
The characters are very realistic.  They seem like real people that you might run into on the street.  They're all fully realized, fully fleshed out, flaws and strong suits and hobbies and dialogue.
The plot, or lack thereof.  Also pretty realistic.  I mean, real life doesn't come with some big story arc or 'moral of the story'.  It's just living day after day, many of which are the same, attempting to find meaning and occasionally change things up.
Now...the bad.
I found it boring...for about the first 119 pages or so.  It's taking an examination of my own thought process to find why.  Remember that 'book is depressed' bit?  That's exactly what this is.  The tone of the book is detached, uncaring.  For anyone who might like the book, they'd find it in the realistic characters, I'd bet.  For me, I don't like reading about the world I live in.  I want an escape.  That's why I mostly stick to science fiction, fantasy.  The closest I get to 'real life' is mysteries, and part of that is playing the detective.  It gives me an investment into the story I might otherwise lack.  For this book...there was no investment.  I like plot.  Yes, I believe it's good characters that set the plot in motion, that you need a plot that fits the characters, but just characters by themselves, barely interacting with anything?  Yes, the novel does a good job portraying stark loneliness, isolation, but I've already had enough angst and whining from people who never grew out of their teenage years (it doesn't help that I've always been fairly mature so wasn't prone to angst myself when I was younger and certainly not now).
As the tone's depressed, not wanting to interact with or care about the world and the characters it's portraying...why should I?
And then.  Well.  It's a 360 page book.  At page 119, the sheer boredom gives way to...a laundry list of all the controversial topics you could possibly think of.  Only a few (insanity, Marxism, alcoholism, minority tension) are mentioned before that point.  By page 129 the list was steadily growing, as if things were being thrown at me as fast as they could, desperately saying "you didn't care, right?  Well, care now!  here's some issues you should care about!  pay attention to me!"  Which...yeah, I care about these issues, but that doesn't mean I need to care about your book, and such cheap pathos-driven tactics edge me from 'bored and uncaring' towards 'dislike because you're being annoying'.  (ORAORA)
To wit: self-harm, cancer and death, single motherhood, being trans or homosexual, fights to the death over a woman, cheating, spousal abuse, gun safety (involving shooting a child that, while she could talk, is named Baby, leading to seeing her as younger than she really is), incestual feelings, lawsuits and subsequent poverty, runaways, rape (mentioned), murder (mentioned, x2), Nazis (incidental), prison torture (graphic), underage sex, high school dropouts, underage smoking and drinking (not usually worth mentioning as present in most places, but I was trying to be thorough), and suicide.  All of which involve different characters.
Perhaps this wasn't so cliché at the time it was written.  However, I'm not reading it then.  I can't read it as a person of that time would, simply because I do not belong to that time.  If one of these topics had been picked and well-addressed, it would've been better.  As it was, it reads like a checklist of all the issues that could possibly be crammed in to a book.  The fact that the detached tone of 'none of this matters' never leaves does not help the treatment of the issues.  I just hope that any high school teacher inflicting this book on their students is intelligent enough to realize that the issues shouldn't just be glossed over, as the book does, but talked about in order to ensure a safe classroom space and that all the students are handling the trauma that may arise well.  Simply ignoring the issue won't make it go away and may harm the students themselves.
The book is McCullers' first novel, and it shows.  The pacing could use some major work.  With more editing, the above societal issues could have been handled better.  I'm not against having them in novels, but seeing them tossed in loosely with the hopes that no one would
I didn't enjoy it.  I also didn't enjoy Citizen Kane, but I admired its artistry.  I can't do that here.  The brush strokes are extraordinary--it's rare that a novel manages to so completely capture the feeling of depression.  A depressed character?  Sure, happens all the time.  A depressed narrator?  Again, it happens.  A depressed book?  Now that's novel.  It's a pity that the rest of the pieces lets it down. tl;dr summary of the book:
bored bored BORED BORED BORED BORED                                    .....what the h*ll did I just read?


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