That super satisfied sigh you hear gusting out of Northern Minnesota is me, while I’m simultaneously holding the Duluth Public Library’s well-worn copy of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers to my chest. I have a new favorite sassy girl of fiction: the young teen Mick Kelly who is one of the main characters of the story.
Georgia, 1930s. John Singer is deaf and mute and so is his roommate Spiros Antonapoulos. They live a quiet little life, walking to and from work together, enjoying dinner and a few drinks, maybe chess and conversation. Then Antonapoulos gets sick and Singer nurses him back to health, but his friend is forever changed and becomes prone to pocketing utensils from restaurants and willy-nilly urinary habits. Antonapoulos’ cousin sends him away to a hospital and Singer is left alone.
Singer rents a room at a boarding house owned by Mick Kelly’s parents and starts over. In the process he develops a small following of four people who count on him as a sounding board for what would otherwise be an inner monologue. There is Jake Blount, a big drinking wanderer with politics to spout, Biff Brannon, the owner of the cafe, Dr. Copeland, an African American doctor who is working toward change and Mick, the middle child with five other siblings, three she tends to in between flights of fancy. Someone is always dropping in to Singer’s room for a drink and some mulling and he understands some of it. He has kind eyes and a nice smile and they each ascribe a level of wisdom and understanding to him. Mostly he just misses Antonapoulos and twice a year he mysteriously leaves town to visit his old friend.
Mick is a total trip. She’s in her early teens and caught between playful child and the undodgeable tug of maturity. When we meet her she has left her young brother in charge of her younger brother and climbs to the peak of house that is being constructed. She sits and thinks and then bravely makes her way backward from the great height. In one scene she throws a fancy party for a select few guests. Everyone dresses up and comes over, but then some young neighbor kids crash it and drink all the lemonade and there is nothing she can do but ditch the masquerade of a grown-up event and dive into the dirt. At night she wanders to an upscale part of town and sits outside of a nice house listening to symphony broadcasts and dreaming of owning a piano. She also doodles compositions into a notebook and is obsessed with Beethoven’s Third Symphony.
This is what she talks to Singer about and when he buys a radio for his guests to enjoy she almost loses her mind.
And this is a bit far into the book for me to mention, but when she loses her virginity in a way that is as close to accidental as one can possibly lose one’s virginity. . . well, that’s just about my favorite scene from any book ever. I also can’t believe it doesn’t happen that way more often.
I’ve apparently been reading a lot of books that are about something lately because this one that is the ebb and flow of incidents that occur over a year-ish in a small Southern town felt novel. I’d forgotten that you can just settle in and watch people live in a book. This is such a great and lazy thing to read.