Set in a small Georgia town, a deaf mute, Mr. Singer, loses his best friend (another deaf-mute) to a mental institution. Soon, when Mr. Singer is alone without his companion, four loners in town begin to befriend him. They, passionate but unable to direct their passion, are drawn to Mr. Singer’s tranquility. He listens. Not with his ears, but to them, with his heart.
These four townspeople — a young girl, Mick, who has an “inside room” in her mind where she retreats to think about music; a wanderer, Jake, spreading the word of I know not what; an African American doctor, Dr. Copeland, who mistrusts all white people but Mr. Singer; and Biff, the cafe owner who seems curious more than anything else — each of them wants. Each of them is hungry. Each of them seeks something from Mr. Singer.
In January she began a certain very wonderful piece called ‘This Thing I Want, I Know Not What.’ It was a beautiful and marvelous song — very slow and soft.
Each loner, except Biff, needs Mr. Singer. They pour their souls out to him, and each feels Mr. Singer gets them, when really he is just a kind man who listens:
He had agreed with each of them in turn, though what it was they wanted him to sanction he did not know. And Mick — her face was urgent and she said a good deal that he did not understand in the least.
In being listened to, these lost passionate people feel what they think is love for Mr. Singer. But can it be? They know nothing of him, and each of them projects onto him their own thoughts and feelings, making him the same as them, because he has no voice to tell them otherwise. And they don’t ask.
Mr. Singer, likewise, has a friend like this — a friend whom he needs, but who doesn’t reciprocate. And all of these needers, they want and desire and have big feelings in them, each has a fire, but they don’t know what to do with it or what it is, and so they lay it all on someone else, thinking that person has the answer. They hunt, always hunt, for companionship, to be listened to, to be understood.
Like the characters in this book, I felt like I was on the edge of something when I finished. The end threw me though. I am this close to understanding what happened at the end, but I need a book buddy to help me hunt it’s meaning.
2 thoughts on “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – I need to understand!”
It’s been a long time (20 years!) since I read it but I remember the ending making me feel unsettled because there was no neat denouement. But I think that’s part of the point. It’s mimetic: we feel unsettled in the same way those characters do. I also think it’s oblique because the ending is really about the prospect of new beginnings. But, of course, I could be misremembering.
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I just finished this book and mostly it made me sad. These needy people wanted a friend but couldn’t find one so they made one up in Singer. He became the repository of their dreams. When Mick tries a real relationship with Harry it isn’t what she expects because he is a real person and not an ideal she has created in her mind. I kept thinking of the parallels with the modern world where some people have online friends who are more real to them than people in their real life. Real people aren’t perfect and we must take them as they are, love them, and learn from them. It’s messy and complicated but ultimately beautiful. But these characters, like some people now, couldn’t see that and became disillusioned when others didn’t meet their dream expectations.
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