When The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter was published in 1940, Carson McCullers was instantly recognized as one of the most promising writers of her generation. The novels that followed established her as a master of Southern Gothic. This Library of America volume collects McCullers’s complete novels for the first time in a single-volume edition that reveals the power and breadth of her haunting vision.
“McCullers’s gift,” writes Joyce Carol Oates, “was to evoke, through an accumulation of images and musically repeated phrases, the singularity of experience, not to pass judgment on it.” McCullers effortlessly conveyed the raw anguish of her characters and the weird beauty of their perceptions. Set in small Georgia towns that are at once precisely observed and mythically resonant, McCullers’s novels explore the strange, sometimes grotesque inner lives of characters who are often marginal and misunderstood. Above all, McCullers possessed an unmatched ability to capture the bewilderment and fragile wonder of adolescence.
In The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), one of the most extraordinary debuts in modern American literature, an enigmatic deaf-mute draws out the haunted confessions of an itinerant worker, a young girl, a doctor, and a widowed owner of a small-town café. The disfiguring violence of desire is explored with shocking intensity in two shorter works, Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941) and The Ballad of the Sad Café (1943).
The Member of the Wedding (1946), thought by many to be McCullers’s masterpiece, hauntingly depicts a young girl’s fascination with her brother’s wedding. In 13-year-old Frankie Addams, confused, easily wounded, yet determined to survive, McCullers created her most indelible protagonist. Clock Without Hands (1960), her final novel, was completed against great odds in the midst of tremendous physical suffering. Set against the background of court-ordered school integration, it contains some of McCullers’s most forceful social criticism.