I remember seeing this book on a bargain bookstore (Booksale) and buying it because the title sounds familiar. It was only when I read the blurb and reviews on Goodreads that I learned that this is a sad book (all along, I thought it was a tragic love story of some sorts). Not a big fan of sad books, I put reading on hold but since it had been staring at me from my bedside stack of books, I decided to put an end to its misery (haha!) and cracked it open.
I approached the book with apprehension, not wanting to cry at the first chapter (because it’s supposed to be a sad book, right?). It started with a typical beginning for storytelling:
“In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.” (p.1)
Several pages in and I was sucked into the story. There were times that I got distracted by some other more interesting books, especially the ones I joined for a scheduled read-along, but I still somehow found the time to go back again and continue reading. Aside from the two mutes mentioned, there are also other characters whose lives are intertwined with each other and how, despite being in the company of other humans, still long for that contentment and satisfaction that seem to elude them.
Among the other major characters — the brooding bar owner Jake Blount, the talkative alcoholic Biff Brannon, and the idealistic Dr. Copeland — I am more drawn to the characters of Mister Singer and Mick Kelly:
Mister Singer. His loyalty to his Antonapoulos is worth coveting. Despite being the person to whom other characters are inexplicably drawn to speak their minds, which is an irony because Singer can neither speak nor hear, he still longs for the company of his Greek, deaf-mute friend.
Mick Kelly. This girl’s passion for music is so intense and her deep longing for music makes me want to go and buy her a piano and radio and give her music lessons (if only I have the money and I am a music expert).
The warnings of the reviews that The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is sad are accurate. In fact, the title itself suggests that a kind of melancholy will be expected, only that its brand of sadness it did not make me teary-eyed. Instead, it made me heave a deep and heavy sigh for the characters. The build-up is slow, elaborately setting the stage first on which each of the characters unhurriedly tries to connect themselves to me, before surprising me with a twist of events that would shake me and frustrate me.
Each of us is made for relationships, be it romantic or platonic. It has been said that “No man is an island” and this novel perfectly illustrates just that. Loneliness is a common feeling that plagues the characters in this story and even though each of them is surrounded by other people and relations, they still feel lonely. What could be the cause of such loneliness? Is it their own futile struggle to matter and change their circumstance? Is it their longing for that one person to truly understand their deepest thoughts?
Or is it the frustration that no matter how hard they try, they will always be left to alone to live their own pathetic lives?
I would have given this a much higher rating if only I can effectively place my self within the context of the story which is the time of the Great Depression in America, especially in the South — a time of extreme poverty where jobs are scarce and racial discrimination is popular. So, the problem is not about the book but about me. After all, this author has been highly acclaimed and the book has been considered as a “literary sensation” for its radical exploration of the human condition. Maybe I am not just the kind who likes to wallow in loneliness and sadness — except when bloody hormones kick in from time to time.
My copy: paperback from Booksale, P5.00