April 6, 2010

So Long, Mick

I have intended for some time to post a few of my favorite things, and I haven't, but this is a good opportunity to mention two of them: the New Yorker fiction podcast and PRI Selected Shorts podcast. I download them from iTunes, listen in the car, and it makes the journey seem much shorter, which is a good thing because it takes ages to get anywhere from our spot in The Woods.

When I mentioned my love of the podcast to my friend Grateful Mama, she was astonished that Buckaroo would listen with me. I have to admit that there are days when he insists on looping his favorite song ("Take Me or Leave Me" from the musical, Rent; sometimes my mothering skills are lacking). Other days, though, he'll just get in his own little zone and listen.

Karen Russell, author of St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, --the title story of which I had just heard read on Selected Shorts-- read Carson McClullers's, "The Jockey" for the New Yorker podcast, and during the follow-up conversation with Deborah Treisman, Russell mentioned that she'd read McCullers's short story "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter," when she was thirteen and began a long reading relationship with McCullers.

I'm always on the lookout for stories and books that Sweet P (also thirteen) and I will enjoy together, so I requested it from the library. It is not, unfortunately, Sweet P material as she is quite downtrodden by the bleak little stories she's required to read for English class, and refuses to read another sad tale of her own volition.

I have to admit that Russell was a stronger girl than I was at thirteen, and possibly than I am thirty-eight. The book is due back to the library, and I haven't finished it. Usually when this happens I scoot on down to the bookstore and buy myself a copy, much to R's chagrin, but I'm not going to do that.

Here's why: It's spring in Massachusetts. It was a long, frosty, frustrating winter with more than one emotional breakdown in our little house. Now the snow has melted, the tiniest maple leaves are unfurling, the bulbs are thrusting their greenness through the damp soil, and the peepers are peeping with wild abandon. I am happy.

As the title suggests, none of the characters in "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" are in the same happy place I am at the moment, and in fact McCullers is so adept at describing their intense, angry, drunken, lonely frustrations, that I can't stand to read it-- at least not right now. The story follows the lives of a few characters in a poor, southern town, and the character I find most haunting is a thirteen-year-old girl named Mick. She reminds me too much of someone I used to know, and it's painful to read:

"This was a very fine and secret place. Close around were thick cedars so that she was completely hidden by herself. The radio was no good tonight- somebody sang popular songs that all ended in the same way. It was like she was empty. She reached in her pockets and felt around with her fingers. There were raisins and a buckeye and a string of beads-- one cigarette with matches. She lighted the cigarette and put her arms around her knees. It was like she was so empty there wasn't even a feeling or thought in her . . .

"Then the music started. Mick raised her head and her fist went up to her throat . . .

"The outside of her was suddenly froze and only that first part of the music was hot inside her heart. She could not even hear what sounded after, but she sat there waiting and froze with her fists tight. After a while the music came again, harder and loud. It didn't have anything to do with God. This was her, Mick Kelly, walking in the daytime and by herself at night. In the hot sun and in the dark with all the plans and feelings. This music was her-- the real plain her.

"She could not listen good enough to hear it all. The music boiled inside her . . . ."

At thirteen, I was newly converted to atheism, although I didn't yet know the word for what I felt. I wasn't eavesdropping in search of music or smoking cigarettes, but I spent a lot of time wandering the neighborhood, wearing pink lip gloss and sitting on the patio at the gas station eating Kit Kats, hoping someone would notice me. I didn't love Mozart, as Mick does, but I loved poetry, and I had this idea that no one was writing poetry in the 1980s, that all poets were dead poets, except for maybe me and (at the time) Shel Silverstein.

Thirteen was a bad year for me (haven't actually met anyone for whom it was enjoyable), and I mostly try to forget the girl I was then and pretty much everything that happened for the following ten to twelve years. So, I'm taking Mick and her neighbors back to the library where a more emotionally stable person than me can meet up with them.

Maybe one day I'll be strong enough to finish the story. Hey, maybe I'll even check out the audio version and listen in the car.

Meanwhile, Sweet P has just finished Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and strongly recommends that I read it, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I bought this book about five years ago and read half way through. I could not bear what might be around the corner and it sits on my book shelf - every once in awhile it catches my eye but my hand does not reach for it. Love Mom