Tuesday 20 March 2012
Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Fiction can be roughly divided in two categories. I labelled the first type 'fluff', and that's really all that can be said about it. All the romance novels belong here, most thrillers, crime stories and the likes. Even Harry Potter - regardless of how many copies have been sold (you can start stoning me now if you wish, I still think HP books are rubbish).
I don't have such a handy label for the other category, but if I had, it would surely be something to do with the soul. Fluff tries to play on your sentiments. Good fiction tells simple stories and magic happens.
I'm sure you can tell the difference. I hope you can.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, while not the most life-changing novel I've ever read, definitely can not be called fluff. It's one of those books that tell you the truth using made-up stories as the medium. Shaping lies to show you the real world.
Superficially it's a narrative describing a year in lives of five different people in the American South (and McCullers was really good at speaking in many voices, showing the same things through different eyes). It's dynamic, or even - I needed to dust off a long-unused and not much liked word here - unputdownable. It sucks you in although it's difficult to say how it manages the trick, since the events described seem rather ordinary, just - lives happening. Even so, it retains this reader-catching ability all the way to the last page. So much for technicalities.
On the deeper level - The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is one of the best books about slavery I've ever read. 'Slavery' here does not translate into 'legal status' but into 'death of the soul'. Funny thing, even though the book was first published in 1940, nothing seems to have changed. We are still slaves to the wage, little people still work their asses off for peanuts so that the big fish could drive around in porsches, and there's still just as plenty of bullshit around. If you happen not to agree to this bullshit, you will be just as angry as McCullers's characters. It appears that human nature does not change after all.
What a shame.