Carson McCullers was all of twenty-three when she published her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter—and it made her a literary sensation. With its profound sense of moral isolation and its compassionate glimpses into its characters’ inner lives, the novel is considered McCullers’ finest work, an enduring masterpiece first published in 1940. At its center is the deaf-mute John Singer, who becomes the confidant for various types of misfits in a Georgia mill town during the 1930s. Each one yearns for escape from small town life. When Singer’s mute companion goes insane, Singer moves into the Kelly house, where Mick Kelly, the book’s heroine (and loosely based on McCullers), finds solace in her music. Wonderfully attuned to the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition, and with a deft sense for racial tensions in the South, McCullers spins a haunting, unforgettable story that gives voice to the rejected, the forgotten, and the mistreated—and, through Mick Kelly, gives voice to the quiet, intensely personal search for beauty.
Richard Wright praised Carson McCullers for her ability to “rise above the pressures of her environment and embrace white and black humanity in one sweep of apprehension and tenderness.” Hers is a humanity that touches all who come to her work, whether for the first time or, as so many do, time and time again. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is Carson McCullers at her most compassionate, most enduring best.
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