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Truman Capote: Summer Crossing

I finally got round to reading Truman Capote’s long lost (well, unknown) novel, Summer Crossing, which was discovered when a bunch of Capote stuff was given to Sotheby’s for auction in 2004. It’s the first novel by the man that I’ve read and, despite it being a defective piece of writing as a whole, its individual sentences sparkle enough for me to want – nay, need! – to read more from the man.

It follows the story of Grady McNeil, seventeen year old New York socialite who stays at home one summer when her family go sailing. There she falls in with the Jewish Clyde Manzer, a World War II veteran now working in a parking lot, although his mother still harbours the dream that he will one day become a famous lawyer:

“My Clyde will be a famous lawyer. Did she think he liked working in a parking lot? That he was doing it just to spite her, when all the time he could be a famous lawyer, a famous anything. Things happen, Mama.”

Waiting in the wings is Peter Bell, a man of the same social standing as Grady and, in his love for her, assumes the perception of ownership despite never making his intentions known. But, with her parents away, Grady rebels and marries Clyde, something she tries to keep from her family which, as the truth outs itself, ends in disastrous circumstances for all involved.

The prose in Summer Crossing, as I’ve said before, is wonderful and there are many occasions that leave you smiling at a turn of phrase or a simile that you would never have thought to use before. Even the choice of a single word in the right place makes it a worthy reading exercise. But, at the same time, the story isn’t a strong one and at one point the linear tale branches off into an area misty in details; I suspect that perhaps parts of the novel remain lost. In the afterword, notes are made to confirm that punctuation – and sometimes whole words – have been added to complete the text.

While it’s a good piece of writing, it’s not the best of novels and I suppose would be best left to Capote completists and those who appreciate style; most others will find themselves disappointed. But, for me, it served its purpose as a brief and rather splendid introduction to the man – and I can only assume the worst is behind me.

May 31, 2007

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