A bigoted, corpulent judge with an inflated self-image; his grandson with a confused sexual identity, aimlessly drifting through life; an angry young man of mixed racial heritage with a deep-seated proclivity for telling lies; and a pharmacist dying of leukemia. Place them in a Georgia town just prior to court-ordered school integration. Stir in the noxious fumes of a small racist southern town in the 1950s and you have the setting for Carson McCullers’ Clock Without Hands.
On the face of it, the novel has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it falls short. The characters are reduced to mouthpieces promoting a specific agenda or point of view. They are unrealistic and speak in artificial-sounding platitudes. The events are disjointed, episodic. Although McCullers exposes the injustices perpetrated on blacks, her treatment of the violence and discrimination they experience borders on clinical. It comes across as uneventful, the main characters seemingly unaffected by it and shaking it off with a shrug of the shoulders.
Presumably, the title of the novel is a reference to the fact that time stops for no one. Progress will be made in spite of efforts to prevent it and/or to turn back the clock. Laws prohibiting discrimination will be implemented. Blacks will rise up and demand their rights. The racist judge and all his like-minded cronies are fighting a battle they will lose. These are admirable themes but they get buried in the execution: the characters are flat, unrealistic, dull, and not fully fleshed-out; the prose rambles; the events string together in a disjointed mish-mash; and the novel lacks clear focus.
Definitely not McCullers best work.