More than thirty years after it was written, the autobiography of Carson McCullers, Illumination and Night Glare, will be published for the first time. McCullers, one of the most gifted writers of her generation--the author of Member of the Wedding, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and The Ballad of Sad Cafe--died of a stroke at the age of fifty before finishing this, her last manuscript. Editor Carlos L. Dews has faithfully brought her story back to life, complete with never-before-published letters between McCullers and her husband Reeves, and an outline of her most famous novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Looking back over her life from a precocious childhood in Georgia to her painful decline from a series of crippling strokes, McCullers offers poignant and unabashed remembrances of her early writing success, her family attachments, a troubled marriage to a failed writer, and friendships with literary and film luminaries (Gypsy Rose Lee, Richard Wright, Isak Dinesen, John Huston, Marilyn Monroe), and the intense relationships of the important women in her life.
The unfinished memoir, recollections and hopes dictated by McCullers between 1965 and 1967 form about 75 pages of this book. This section includes biographical notes about her family and meeting/living with famous friends, thoughts about her husband, Reeves, and her restricted life in 1966 and 1967, although she manages a visit to John Huston (the director of the film of Reflections in a Golden Eye) in Ireland. Her hopeful comments about being able to travel more once her leg is amputated, which didn’t happen as she had a massive stroke, are sad in retrospect.
There follows about 80 pages of correspondence between Carson and her at that time ex-husband Reeves from 1944 and 1945 whilst Reeves is in the US infantry. These are moving as they show Carson and Reeves continuing long distance love for each other, especially poignant when Carson is writing worrying about Reeves being caught up in the German counteroffensive, when he had been wounded and hospitalised days before. This section was unexpected and affecting in its revealing honesty pf Carson’s wishes for Reeves. Carson had indicated that some of the correspondence should be included in Illuminations, but had not indicated which letters before her death.
The outline of “The Mute” (retitled The Heart is a Lonely Hunter for publication), which has previously been published elsewhere, is included as an appendix. The outline had been sent to the publisher together with the first chapters in order to to sell the book, but is a very interesting summary of McCullers intentions.
There is also a detailed chronology and index.