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Book Notes | ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’

July 21, 2023, at 2pm

The Modern Library ranked The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers seventeenth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Time magazine included it in its 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. In 2004 the novel was selected for Oprah's Book Club.

McCullers was born on February 19, 1917, in Columbus, Georgia. She took writing classes at Columbia University and New York University from 1935 to 1936. She died from a brain hemorrhage on September 29, 1967.

Published in 1940, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter was her debut novel; she was 23 at the time of publication. The novel enjoyed a rapid rise to the top of the bestseller lists, although it received a divided reception from the critics. Kirkus Reviews wrote: “Direct, uncompromising, a distinguished piece of writing whose very subject matter will make it almost impossible to sell.”

Set in the 1930s, in a southern town much like the one in which McCullers was raised, the book revolves around the enigmatic figure of John Singer, a deaf-mute who finds himself on his own after 10 years of sharing a silent routine with his only friend and fellow deaf-mute, Spiros Antonapoulos. 

When Antonapoulos, after a stretch of increasingly erratic behavior, is committed to an asylum, Singer finds himself more isolated than ever—until he comes to board in the house of the Kelly family and becomes the confidant of four of the town’s loneliest souls: the café owner Biff Brannon, the heavy-drinking political radical Jake Blount, the Black doctor Benedict Copeland, and a 12-year-old girl with dreams of a musical future, Mick Kelly. These four characters, estranged from family, friends, and community by the remoteness of their longings, find consolation in the hushed politeness of Singer’s company.

We had a good discussion when the UMRA Book Club met on July 21, although members found McCullers’ novel dark and bleak. We questioned why the book was so popular when it was first published, and why it is on so many current lists of best novels. Not many in our group would recommend the book to others.

Diane Madlon-Kay, UMRA Book Club I




Book Club I in July

Fri, Jul 21 2023, 2pm

Event to be held via Zoom.

Diane Madlon-Kay will lead the discussion of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers when the UMRA Book Club meets via Zoom at 2 p.m. on Friday, July 21.

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