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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Book Reviews

    Book Reviews

    “”Summer Crossing””, Truman Capote Random House

    Forty years after Truman Capote stunned the world with his true-crime classic “”In Cold Blood,”” interest in him is as high as it’s ever been. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s brilliant performance in “”Capote”” picked up an Oscar on Sunday, and yet another film about the squeaky-voiced genius is on the horizon. Now Capote’s fans can treat themselves to the legendary writer’s very first novel.

    Viewers of “”Capote”” will remember that the closing titles reveal that Truman Capote never completed another book after “”In Cold Blood,”” although he lived for nearly another two decades.

    Capote spent most of that time writing (or claiming to be writing) “”Answered Prayers,”” a thinly disguised novel about his social life, including many of his celebrity friends. When Capote published an excerpt from it, many of his friends were scandalized and refused to speak to him again.

    After Capote’s death in 1984, the executors of his estate spent years searching for the manuscript of “”Answered Prayers.”” They didn’t find it, but did find something they hadn’t expected: four school notebooks containing the manuscript of Capote’s first novel, “”Summer Crossing,”” long thought lost.

    Capote wrote “”Summer Crossing”” when he was only 19, scribbling and correcting it for years until he finally set it aside, apparently deciding it was too immature a work for publication.

    While Capote was a good judge of his own work, “”Summer Crossing”” is a surprisingly strong first novel. Capote’s style, while much more florid than it would later become, is almost mature. Although the novel has its flaws, the sheer gorgeousness of Capote’s writing is more than enough to make them forgivable.

    “”Summer Crossing”” is the story of Grady McNeil, a 17-year-old socialite who rebels against her high-class New York background while her parents are in Europe by having a summer romance with a rough-hewn parking lot attendant. As the summer wears on, the romance ultimately goes much further than she had intended.

    As exquisite as Capote’s prose is, the characters are never fully formed. Grady is a pale shadow of Holly Golightly, the unforgettable heroine of “”Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”” Her friend Peter is introduced early on enough to intrigue us, but then disappears from the action for far too long. Grady’s working-class lover, Clyde, with his vocabulary of “”awwws”” and “”hells,”” is part human, part stereotype.

    But it doesn’t matter much, because Capote’s writing seems to illuminate these characters from within even as we see their artificiality, giving them life and movement. Capote almost seems to momentarily inhabit these fictional creations, revealing them as projections of himself: sensitive, wounded and self-pitying.

    You can see that in Capote’s description of how Grady’s “”skinny, nimble face, shaped with bones of fish-spine delicacy, was flushed by the honeyed blowing light.””

    Or his description of a wild party: “”A marathon of scarlet stars blinked on a circle of ceiling, and Grady, sprinkled by the light, dizzy in their whirl, drifted in the refuge of this sky. … And turning in air, her hair swung like a victory. They danced until all at once and as one the music dimmed and the stars went dark.””

    It’s almost impossible to believe a 19-year-old could write a passage like that. In its musical string of images, its giddy turns of phrase (“”dizzy in their whirl””) and its wonderful concluding line “”all at once and as one,”” sounds almost biblical. It’s the work of a wholly original, if not yet mature, writer.

    “”Summer Crossing”” does not sustain its tone to the very end. The last half of the book is noticeably weaker than the first, as Capote struggles to turn what would have been a very fine long short story into a novel. In the last 10 pages, it takes a ludicrously melodramatic turn, skidding to an abrupt, unbelievable conclusion.

    Still, it is a remarkably precocious work and shows more than a sign of the great writer Capote would become. “”Summer Crossing”” is certainly worth a read.

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