Last week I finished reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. I’m trucking my way through Book Riot’s Read Harder 2017 Challenge – I’ve completed 13 of 24 now – this book fulfilled Challenge #9, Read A Book You’ve Read Before.
I read this book for the first time when I was a teenager – I don’t remember exactly how old I was; maybe 13 or 14. There were elements of the book that really stuck with me, parts of the characters that never left me, but I remembered very little about the details of the plot and the themes. What I did remember was just enough to make me realize that there was probably quite a bit that I hadn’t fully understood when I was a young teenager. Lordy was that ever true.
(There’s a bit spoilery bit but I’ve got it behind an accordion!)
First off, my young teenage self completely missed all the queerness in this book. Even Singer, whose queerness is most obvious, went completely over my head at that age. I don’t know if she intended to portray this character as literally gay and in love with Antonapoulos (this certainly could be the case – given what I’ve now read about her personal life it would make sense for her to identify with a character experiencing completely unrequited queer love) or if their friendship was meant to be more of a metaphor, but maybe that doesn’t actually matter. Singer’s complete obsession with Antonapoulos – to the point where he did in his own mind to Antonapoulos exactly what most other characters in the book endlessly did to him, projecting onto him the qualities that he wanted most to see – is certainly queer af, even if she didn’t intend for it to be literally sexual in nature.
Big Spoilery Bit
Although there were a good handful of details about this book that I remembered – mostly about Mick; as a young teenager she was the one I identified with the most – I managed to completely forget that Singer dies. I might has well have been reading the book for the first time when I got to that part – when he realizes that Antonapoulos is dead I was thinking how terrible it was going to be for him and trying to remember how he manages to survive it, because some part of my mind expected that if he in fact hadn’t survived it that surely I would’ve remembered that. Nope.
So when he shoots himself it seemed maybe like even more of a gut punch than it would have otherwise, because I hadn’t even considered that that was what was coming. And it was so fucking heartbreaking – this man is so revered by people who don’t even know, really, anything about his truth. They infuse him with their own truth and don’t have even the slightest clue about what he really lives for. He’s surrounded by all of these people who come to him for meaning, but once Antonapoulous is gone – a man that I don’t believe even particularly cared about him or thought about him when he wasn’t there – he just can’t go on. He’s given meaning to all of these people without even trying or understanding how, and can’t live without taking meaning from a man that probably would’ve never noticed had he stopped visiting. This book seems infused with people’s inability to succeed at taking mutual meaning from each other.
It really speaks to how little I understood about Singer that I didn’t remember his death after the first reading, because now I can’t stop thinking about it; it’s definitely the most potent part of the story to me.
I also love how she used Biff to play with gender identity and I wonder if he would be a trans character if the story were retold today.
I still love Mick and her story is still gripping and one that I can identify with, but it’s interesting how as a young teenager she seemed by far like the most important, fascinating character to me, and while the years haven’t caused her to lose any ground in my mind, the other characters have risen up to that same level now that I can grasp them more fully.
The grappling she does with racial issues and the story of Portia, Dr. Copeland and their family is pretty astounding given that the novel was written by a 23 year old in 1940. The way both Dr. Copeland and Blount wrestle with desires for justice and activism that are way ahead of their time, and how that drive ends up pushing both of them away from other people, seems particularly relevant today.
There’s a lot about this book that amazes me given her age when she wrote it. This is a woman who had a very profound understanding of humanity at a very young age. I definitely want to go back and read the rest of her work. Along with the work of Octavia Butler and Zora Neale Hurston.
I’m definitely not planning on trying to complete the entire Read Harder challenge in 2018 – I might take some ideas from it for my reading for the year but I want the freedom to pursue some of the authors that the 2017 challenge has introduced me to without having to think about whether I can fit them into a challenge. I first started with the 2017 challenge to encourage myself to read books I might not have gotten around to otherwise and broaden my reading horizons, and given that it’s resulting in not only a ton of new favorites from what I’m reading this year but a ton of Audible wish list items for 2018, I think it’s succeeding pretty damned well.