Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Closing Thoughts: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Well, there we go. One book out of fifty (sixty?) down.

I'm going to go ahead and post my thoughts on these books as I finish them and, while I do my best not to spoil anything wherever possible, please realize that there will be spoilerish elements (at least) and possible full-out ending-ruinings (at worst). It's just unavoidable.

Also, I'm not publishing a review of the book necessarily. Again, this blog is mostly for my benefit, so it's good for me to have my initial thoughts cataloged somewhere handy where I can refresh my memory on what I've read (since I'm going to be reading a LOT of things I've never heard of before)

Bottom line: if you think you are planning to read the books discussed, you probably ought to stop after the synopsis. If you don't plan to read them, or you've already read them, then go for it. Grab a cup of coffee and we'll chat.

So, with that said, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. This book was recommended by a good friend of mine who is one of the few true good ole Southern boys I've ever met. Having grown up in the Midwest, I really don't have a great frame of reference for life in the Deep South (Houston does not count, despite the fact that it is deeper and souther than most of the Deep South), so this was an interesting perspective to read from.

Page count: 359
Total pages read so far: 359
Total books read so far: 1

My synopsis:
John Singer is a deaf-mute who lives in a small Georgia town in the late 1930s. There is only one other deaf-mute in town, a Greek named Spiros Antonapoulos, who is not only Singer's best friend but also the only person in town with whom Singer feels he truly belongs. After Anonapoulos' cousin has him committed to an asylum, Singer finds himself alone in the world for the first time in years. He moves into a new boarding house and has his breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the same restaurant every day. Eventually, the deaf-mute catches the attention of several of the town's citizens, including the restaurant owner, the teenage daughter of his landlord, the town's black Marxist doctor, and the hot-headed drunken radical reformer carnival worker. The four often visit Singer's room for lengthy conversations, though Singer rarely speaks. He simply listens, and each come to view Singer as his or her confidante, the only person in town who truly understands him/her. Singer, however, still longs for the company of his friend Antonapoulos, and he views these visitors as welcome distractions from the isolation he feels everywhere he goes in the small town. Each character has their hope, their dream, their ideal for which they've forsaken everything else in their lives: Blount has his lower-class revolution, Dr. Copeland his cause of justice for Negros, Mick has a dream to become a great musician and travel the world--and somehow Singer becomes the post which sustains their faith in these ideals.

I liked this book; it was a good read and a pretty accessible one despite the fact that there were several lengthy discourses on philosophical topics (especially Marxism and Fascism) and the fact that your protagonist is a deaf-mute. It's a sad story, as just about everybody you meet is a fairly sad character, but it's not depressing. I used to think (when I was quite a bit younger) that a story with a sad ending made for a depressing read, but that's really not the case. Rather, Hunter is one of those books that allows you to see how these characters' choices eventually led to the loneliness and isolation that they felt, whether it was in their community, in their family, or in the human race as a whole.

This was also one of those books where I think different readers could easily draw different conclusions as to the "bottom line." The throughline that I saw weaving its way through all five characters' stories was the idea that everybody needs to have someone who they feel understands them, and without that person we are lost. When it came down to it, that seemed to be what gave each of these folks the illusion of happiness in their lives.

There are also interesting discussion points about committing your all to one specific dream, ideal, or relationship, and thus shutting yourself out of the lives of those around you. Again, that works great while your Ace is working for you, but once things sour, your life is left surprisingly empty.

Everyone in this story is selfish in their own way. You see it early on in the character of Jake, who is really never likable, but as I look back I see it played out in each of their stories. Jake, Biff, Dr. Copeland, and Mick all came regularly to visit Singer, but none of them really came to "visit," save perhaps for Mick. They came to speak to the mute Singer because he would listen, and because, for some reason, each felt that he truly understood them. For his part, Singer didn't seem to mind their company, but he was using them, too, as distraction from his longing for his own friend (who seemed to me to be a terrible friend upon whom Singer hung the moon). Nobody really reached out to anybody else, and that's why everybody finished the thing so dang miserable.

Arthur Miller once said that a tragedy has to contain the potential for victory in order to be effective. I think that principle was illustrated pretty fantastically in this book. Let's face it, nobody was damned into what they ended up with. You could trace the choices they made, whether in the narrative or earlier in their lives, which led them to their various unhappy endings.

Have you read this? What did you think? Was there one character more than the others you found yourself frustrated with? What did you make of Biff? (I admit I wasn't entirely sure what to do with him by the end of the narrative)

Tomorrow I'll start one what I assume is going to be a happier book ;-)

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