The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
is only partly a coming-of-age novel. There are several threads of the story, following the five main characters of the book, all interesting people, with a deep inner world. One would think they could cure their loneliness once they get to know each other, but things are more complex than that and don't always turn out the way they should. And do they actually come to know each other in the end?John Singer
is a deaf-mute who is living with his only friend, a fat Greek, Spiros Antanopoulos, who has the same handicap. After the latter is sent to a mental hospital, Singer moves to a boarding house and gets to know a handful of people, who from then on start to gravitate around him, eager to speak about their thoughts and torments, having the impression that the mute has a superior understanding of life. While with Spiros, he was the one who used to talk with his hands every evening, but now he has become the one who listens. Mick Kelly
is a 14-year old girl with a complex inner world; she dreams of becoming a musician and of travelling to distant countries covered in snow. She is slowly discovering her womanliness and sexuality. I loved the metaphor of her soul divided in an outer and inner chamber, I loved the way she perceived music.
Her connection to music was disturbing for me, as I too used to hear music in my head and dreamed of playing it on the piano. Not unlike Mick, I studied the piano for eight years, yet I got lazy in the end. Reading about what she felt about music brought about memories of my own ambitions and felt sadder to have failed. Dr. Copeland
is an intelligent black man whose purpose in life is to educate his people, to transform their beliefs and help them transcend their condition, in order to make a better life for the black race. He became estranged from his wife and children and he had failed to pass his revolutionary ideas onto them. Through his story, we get to know the harsh lives of black people and their resistance to change. Jack Blount
is a half-mad guy, a wandered who made a sudden appearance in town, claiming he could understand, that he knew a truth that others were too blind to see. He finds comfort in the mute John Singer, whose silence gives him the aura of understanding and knowing. Bill Brannon
is the owner of a cafe where all the characters gather to eat and drink. He doesn't say much, but we get to know his thoughts. He is attracted by strange people, by outcasts, and so he takes pity on Jack Blount.
I was wrong about this book on so many levels! First, I thought it was written by a guy, when instead Carson was a woman, who was merely 23 when she wrote this book. Wow! Such complexity of language and ideas is usually bestowed upon writers much later, after life has granted experience and depth. I can't imagine how someone can write like this at 23!
Secondly, I thought I was getting a cheerful, carefree coming-of-age novel, when instead I was immersed in a complex, serious and heart-wrenching story. There's so much loneliness in here and the events seem to head for disaster. I would imagine all sorts of terrible things that could happen to the characters. The pressure was constantly building, it seemed a question of paragraphs until the disaster would struck, yet it only came towards the ending.
Thirdly, I expected some romance going on, but I didn't get any - in the standard form, that is. There was love, but it was awkward, unfulfilled, sometimes twisted. The strangest of them all was the powerful attachment that Singer felt for his friend Spiros, despite the Greek's passive, greedy and mean character. In the end, nobody was capable to understand what lay beneath Singer's calm, friendly appearance and what went on in his soul. They were just as lonely and estranged as in the beginning of the story...