The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

I don’t know about you, but my heart is certainly a lonely hunter. I’ve been feeling that more acutely, recently, and I think I stumbled upon this book at a very fitting time.


Can we just take a second to laud the title The Heart is a Lonely Hunter as quite possibly the best title of a book, ever. (Side note: I don’t I think I like any of the cover art I found for this novel.) I don’t know how I’ve gone nearly 28 years on this planet without reading it. My education, nay, my country has failed me! But, then, if I had read this book ten years ago, I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it the way I do now. Or maybe that’s underestimating my younger self. Either way, why aren’t people constantly talking about how wonderful this book is?

Firstly, I’m not sure how a 23-year-old could be so accurately emotionally insightful. Haven’t we all been Mick Kelly? Dressing up for a party, thinking, ‘This time things are going to different,’ and, ‘Aren’t we all such grown ups?’ only to have that image devolve into a game of tag? Discovering something you want, someone you want to be with your whole being, and trying to become that person, by whatever meager means she has, only to be struck with the thought that “Maybe when people longed for a thing that bad the longing made them trust in anything that might give it to them.” Mick Kelly, how are you so wise?

Mick Kelly is one of my favorite coming-of-age female characters, right up there with Thea Kronborg and Scout. So many of her sentiments are perfect, and I don’t want to just plop down a list of quotes here, but she is so thoughtful, I just can’t help myself. Her reactions to music are so spot-on, for me.

“This music was her – the real plain her. [. . .] The whole world was this music and she could not listen hard enough. [. . .] Wonderful music like this was the worst hurt there could be. The whole world was this symphony, and there was not enough of her to listen.”

I have felt that feeling. And it’s a beautiful kind of hurt and longing. And McCullers got it perfectly. Isn’t that the mark of a great book? The author’s ability to put into words what you’ve felt but haven’t quite been able to express? And then suddenly, there it is. You recognize yourself in writing.

Then there’s Mick’s concept of the inside and outside rooms. Not ground-breaking, but revelatory for a pre-teen/teenager. And then when Mick has to grow up and can’t access her inside room as well as she could because being a working grown-up is exhausting? Heartbreakingly real. The reader watches Mick grow up in ways Scout didn’t have to, wishing she could have been Thea Kronborg. (In my head, they’re 11-year-old fienemies.)

I’m also in love with some of Biff’s observations about love. Except, I’m also slightly confused by them because I’m fairly confident he didn’t really love his wife, so I don’t know why he is the one to have these beautiful revelations:

“Why was it that in cases of real love the one who is left does not more often follow the beloved by suicide? Only because the living must bury the dead? Because of the measured rites that must be fulfilled after a death? Because it is as though the one who is left steps for a time upon a stage and each second swells to an unlimited amount of time and he is watched by many eyes? Because there is a function he must carry out? Or perhaps, when there is love, the widowed must stay for the resurrection of the beloved – so that the one who has gone is not really dead, but grows and is created for a second time in the soul of the living.”

And later, on the same note, thinks, “And how can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?” How can this not just split you open?

I love these lonely hunters. Although, I don’t love their exploitation of Singer. As soon as he showed up I worried about how these people were just going to take and take and use him up. And I wasn’t ready for his end. Heartrending. But fitting.

There is so much more going on in this book than the quotes I’ve jotted down, enough to resonate with many people in different ways. A note on reading this library book, however: The copy I got had a few passages underlined, and all I could think was, ‘You’ve completely missed it!’ But we’re all searching for something different from what we read.

Yes, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a sad book with an appropriately sad ending.  It’s heartbreaking in a beautifully real way. Maybe I do read too many “sad books,” but what exactly is a “happy book?” (novels, not, like, cartoon collections) And is there value in a “happy book?” If no one goes through struggle, or confronts sadness or difficulty, or changes, why would I want to read that book? But, again, we’re all searching for something different from what we read.


2 thoughts on “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

  1. Love love love this book. Thanks for sharing the wonderful (and super thorough) review! If you’re ever interested in some other great book reviews and musings, be sure to follow! Thanks!


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