In April of this year I started a book club for my local hearing loss group. I haven’t been reviewing the book club books on this blog. Mainly because we focus on books related to hearing and hearing loss and I write about many things on this blog and not just hearing loss. However, the most recent book we did is a novel that I would love to discuss.
The book was a novel from the 1940s called “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers. Set in 1930s Georgia the story revolves around five central characters with one of them being a man who is deaf and mute. We have been alternating between fiction and nonfiction books in my book club and after only two fiction books we had depleted the list of novels that I had related to hearing loss. One of my advanced degrees is a master’s in library and information science so I reached out to some fellow librarians for help in expanding our list of novels. I received a lot of great suggestions that will keep us reading for a while. On the list was this novel, “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers. It was published in 1940 when McCullers was just 23. It was well received at the time of publication and eventually turned into a movie that went on to get nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Actor for Alan Arkin and Best Supporting Actress for Sondra Locke). I plan to watch the film (available to rent through Amazon Prime Video for $1.99).
The novel itself made for a nice discussion as we worked our way through various themes we observed. The chief topic we discussed was communication and loneliness. The title of the book comes from a poem “The Lonely Hunter” by the Scottish poet William Sharp: “Deep in the heart of Summer, sweet is life to me still, But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill.” Loneliness is certainly a central theme that ties in with communication and made for an interesting discussion for my hearing loss group. What I mean by that is that the central character that plays a pivotal role in the novel is the deaf mute John Singer. The four other central characters spend much of the novel talking to Singer who in turn doesn’t really communicate back with them (being deaf and mute). However, the other characters don’t seem to mind that Singer doesn’t communicate with them and proceed to have very one-side conversations and relationships with him. This leaves Singer isolated and lonely (a lonely hunter) even though he is often surrounded by others. Those who confide in him aren’t looking for true communication and conversation which is why they probably choose a deaf mute to confide in.
My book club is made up of people with varying degrees of hearing loss. And because of that we really paid attention to the isolation that deaf mute John Singer must have felt. I had perfect hearing for 37 years before my severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) gave me brain damage that has resulted in significant hearing problems that present as aural distortions, etc. My chief complaint about my injury is that it’s isolating. No one (no matter how well-meaning) truly understands what it’s like to live in a world where sound is never straightforward. To me, with my intense aural distortions a sound never presents as it actually is. I have 37 years worth of a sound library (a library of sounds as they used to sound) and because of that reference point I know that what I am “hearing” now is nowhere close to what I used to hear. It’s incredibly isolating to realize that to others I look normal on the outside but on the inside (in my brain) I am experiencing constant chaos. The character of John Singer has people constantly talking TO and AT him but no one is really talking WITH him. They don’t know him or his motivations.
I really do recommend this book. Especially because I haven’t read anything quite like it and the writing is definitely classic. My group was very glad that we found this book (thank you to my librarian friends on social media) and we look forward to reading more books that are thought-provoking like this. Our next book is a memoir about the Deaf Blind syndrome Usher’s Syndrome. The book is “Invisible: My Journey Through Vision and Hearing Loss” by Ruth Silver (find it on Amazon here).
I don’t necessarily plan on continuing to review my book club books for this blog unless I come across something I really feel like readers of this blog might appreciate.