This is a book I picked up because it is considered a classic of modern literature, and I felt I should be acquainted with such. I ended up not being able to put it down.
There is not a lot of plot; the story is almost completely character driven. It takes place in a small southern town during the Depression. The pivotal figure is John Singer, a deaf mute who, along with knowing ASL (American Sign Language) can read lips very well. His best friend, the only other person in town who knows ASL, is a man with mental illness that gets worse in the very first part of the book, so that his cousin puts him in a mental hospital. This leaves Singer essentially alone; he knows what others say, but cannot express himself to them. His own thoughts and opinions are trapped inside. But he makes a great ‘listener’ and four people find themselves irresistibly drawn to him.
All around Singer, other plot lines play out for different characters. Mick, a thirteen year old girl both eager and reluctant to grow up; Dr. Copeland, who reveres and promotes education, is greatly respected by the Black population of the county but treated like dirt by most whites; Jake Blount is an alcoholic union organizer; while Biff Brannon, widowed during the course of the novel, owns the town’s café where everyone comes but no one talks to him. Each of these characters is multidimensional and deep; each of these people face loneliness and isolation in the midst of other people. The man who cannot say anything is ironically named “singer’.
The book is incredibly rich with characters and interactions and even political statements; the fact that the book was McCullers’ first novel amazes me. It’s about racism, classism, capitalism, coming of age, the hazards of giving loaded guns to 7 year olds, and so much more. 5 stars!
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