If this is the same territory as existentialism, which was emerging in Occupied Paris as she was writing, Carson McCullers's second novel has much in common with Stefan Zweig's Beware of Pity
and Joseph Roth's The Radetzky March
, those agonised tales of psychological malaise and decay in pre-WW1 Austria. Like those tales, her setting is a provincial military base in peacetime which, through lack of stimulus and numbing routine, generates a hot-house atmosphere for those stationed there. And despite a surface cheerfulness, her characters are deeply unhappy people: despite the constant talk, there is almost no communication between them.
Carson McCullers works with six characters, none especially perceptive or intelligent people, all of whom feel that life has let them down. And, when put together, these individuals relentlessly drive each other up the wall, quite deliberately playing on each other's nerves. We quickly learn there are unspoken tragedies behind it all: like the death of an infant child which they don't speak about. Unconfronted grief scars this tale.
Tennessee Williams praised this 1941 book highly as the work of a great artist. It is an assessment I agree with. Williams even felt this astonishingly accomplished work was a core text in forming the Southern Gothic (it sits alongside William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor) because the book revolves around that intuition, that sense of "an underlying dreadfulness in modern experience." Then add to the psychological depth of the book, the quality of the prose. Each of McCullers's economical sentences is a wonder of concision - a precisely cut stone that has been uniquely shaped to slot into its place. The writing is just so deft, so tasty.
A truly marvellous novel. This is literature at the very front rank.