Carson McCullers’ eyes on me

July 23, 2010

I noticed this the other day. Walking down the stairs and turning to go out the front door, there she was, as if she’d casually leaned over and looked out from the side of the bookshelf to gaze at me.

This photo of Carson McCullers is from the back of her sixth book, Clock Without Hands, published in 1961, twenty-one years after her acclaimed first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. I’ve read the latter, as well as McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding and The Ballad of the Sad Café, but not the former, even though it’s sitting on my bookshelf.

I purchased my copy of Clock Without Hands — a first edition — because the dust jacket is pristine, and it’s tough to find a first edition dust jacket in such fine condition. A circle is cut out of the center of it, framing the title and emulating a clock, and that makes the dust jacket fragile. It’s typically damaged. 

Clock Without Hands got panned by The New York Times in a review on September 17, 1961. The critic regarded it as less successful than McCullers’ earlier books and said the most “disturbing” quality “is the lethargic flatness of the prose.” The story summary from the dust jacket’s inner flap of my edition says: “Here is a book which faces directly the overwhelming question of good and evil and reaffirms our faith in the dignity of life. J. T. Malone, the unwilling hero of this powerful novel, is engaged in an inner struggle that parallels his impending death. Through extreme moral suffering he discovers the greatest danger is not death but the loss of one’s own self in life, and because of a decision of conscience, he acts and finds himself.”

I’m not inclined to read Clock Without Hands, being it’s not one of McCullers’ best, but I’ve been thinking lately to re-read The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. It’s a recurring thought that existed before I noticed McCullers leaning over and having a look beyond the bookshelf. I read the acclaimed classic long ago in a college lit class, and I don’t remember much of it beyond scenes from the movie flickering in and out of memory. Perhaps it’s time to get to it, what with those watchful eyes. Either that or I move Clock Without Hands to another bookcase.

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