“I am so immersed in my characters that their motives are my own. When I write about a thief, I become one; when I write about Captain Penderton, I become a homosexual man. I become the characters I write about and I bless the Latin poet Terence who said ‘Nothing human is alien to me.”
-Carson McCullers

In 1940, the southern writer Carson McCullers shot to fame with her debut novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. * At the startling age of 23, Ms. McCullers created a nuanced and empathic tale concerning a loosely connected band of stricken, lonely, heart sick characters. The characters fruitlessly searched for “contentment” in a world that had seemingly run out it (sounds a lot like the Splash Bar on a Monday night).

Her debut novel contained some pretty strong homoerotic over tones, but it was her second novel The Reflections in a Golden Eye that Ms. McCullers divorced the “sub” from the “text”, and undertook the issue of homosexuality head on. Released in 1941, The Reflections in a Golden Eye takes place on a southern army base located outside Atlanta. The novel primarily concerns a cowardly, closeted army captain named Penderton and his cheating temptuous wife Lenora. It can be said, without any doubt, that the army base in this novel is more Peyton Place, by way of Knots Landing, than boring old Fort Bragg.

There is the character of Private Williams, an odd introverted man, who after being in the service for two years is assigned to stable duty at the army base. While doing yard/stable work at the home of Captain Penderton, he sees Lenora in the buff and becomes obsessed with her. At night, Private Williams sneaks into Penderton’s house, and alternately watches Lenora sleep/ fondles the panties and bras in Lenora’s lingerie drawer.

There is Lenora’s current lover, Major Morris Langdon, who lives with his depressed wife Alison, and her effeminate Filipino houseboy Anacleto. The manic Alison is recovering from the death of her and Langdon’s new-born child, and has clipped off her nipples with garden shears in anguish.

Meanwhile, Captain Penderton realizes that he has the hots for Private Williams, unaware of the private’s longing for Leonora.

Basically the novel is nuts, but it is also so well written that McCullers (almost?) overcomes the odd plot contrivances with her humanistic touch and stellar lyrical dexterity.

This novel screams a lot of things, but it does not scream movie adaptation. In 1963, the out-there transgressive nature of the book did not stop director John Houston from giving it ago. The film starred Marlon Brando, as the not so latent homosexual Capt. Penderton , and Elizabeth Taylor , as the hot in the pants Lenora. The film is as crazy, tawdry and beautiful as the novel, which I guess is no easy feat.

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