Friday, January 19, 2007

Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers

How have I not read Carson McCullers before? Just a few pages into this book I knew I liked it a lot. Maybe it's the setting: a military base in the South. Or maybe it's the first character McCullers introduces: Private Elgee Williams, a large, quiet loner who wanders around the base lost in his head. Or, maybe it's McCullers's sleek, spare prose, her sharp selection of detail, and her ability to nail a character description in one phrase. I feel an affinity for Private Williams because he reminds me of me while I was stationed in Virginia in 1990, but this story grabbed me because it's damn well written.

I know, though, why I've never read McCullers before. Her most famous novel is The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and anyone who's shared an office or a workshop or the viewing of any television show with me can predict how that title's going to get under my skin. For those who don't already know, here's the scoop:

The sentimental notion that the heart is the center of human emotion is the vilest kitsch-vector on record. At best, it's unreflective and saccharine. At worst, it reflects an effort to imply some sort of difference between emotions and other mental dispositions, usually to advance some kind of pseudo-spiritual fluff about "knowing in your heart" or "A fool says in his heart. . . ."

The heart is a muscle that recieves electrical impulses from the brain for the purposes of circulating blood around the body. That's it. If you have anything other than blood in your heart--and that includes "love" and "joy" and "hope"--see a doctor. You need to have that removed before you have a heart-attack or a stroke.

I feel better now.

Fortunately, Nancy Bombaci's book Freaks in Modern American Culture provoked me to read McCullers. Now I will have to read all of her novels, including The Blood-Pumping Muscle is an Anthropomorphized, Isolated Animal-Killer.


Anonymous said...

When I was deciding who needed to read what, I wanted Kassie to read Carson McCullers. Don't you think they are a perfect match?

I LOVE The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Member of the Wedding is fabulous, too.

Jason said...

I remember that, and I think you're right. Kassie's stories tend to have a McCullersesque haunting quality, though Kassie tends to keep a more subjective POV than McCullers does in Reflections.

Now that I know I like this author, I won't let that irksome title keep me from reading her.