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Our Big Summer Readathon: ‘Summer Crossing’ by Truman Capote *****

Whilst Truman Capote’s Summer Crossing was the first novel which the author penned, it was discovered posthumously, and was first published in 2005. The executors of his will were in two minds about whether it should be made readily available to the public, and I for one am so glad that it was.  I feel privileged to be able to read Capote’s work in all of its forms, but there is something about Summer Crossing almost being hidden from public eyes which makes me all the more thankful to have been able to engross myself into the story.

Summer Crossing is set in post-World War II New York.  The focus is upon a seventeen-year-old girl, ‘a young carefree socialite’ named Grady McNeil.  Her parents go off to England – thus taking the ‘summer crossing’ of the novel’s title – and leave her alone in their Fifth Avenue penthouse for the summer.  The blurb succinctly described how this impacts upon Grady’s life: ‘Left to her own devices, Grady turns up the heat on the secret affair she’s been having with a Brooklyn-born Jewish war veteran who works as a parking lot attendant.  As the season passes, the romance turns more serious and morally ambiguous, and Grady must eventually make a series of decisions that will forever affect her life and the lives of everyone around her’.

Even before I began to read, I was expecting to find a heroine like Breakfast at Tiffany‘s quirky Holly Golightly.  There are similarities between Grady and Holly, of course, but Grady is also something wholly original – she is a distinct character in her own right, who has been built to perfection and comes to life before the very eyes.  She is a vivid creation, and one who dances around in the mind for weeks after the final page of her tale is closed.  Capote launches into her family dynamic immediately, and so much is learnt about the characters in just the first few pages in consequence.  The friction which exists between Grady’s parents, and her elder sister Apple, has been perfectly portrayed – so much so that we are aware of it straight away.  The social and gender inequalities which he points out as the plot gathers speed help to ground Grady’s story in place and time.  Capote’s understanding of the human psyche comes across as intelligently as is possible on the page.

I adore the premise of Summer Crossing, and would have been thrilled to come across it if it had been by another author.  The mere fact that it was penned by Truman Capote, however, put it on something of a pedestal to me, and I was so excited to see how such an intriguing storyline would work when coupled with his beautiful and distinctive writing in its earliest stages.  The Modern Library edition’s blurb calls it a ‘precocious, confident first novel’; to an extent it is, but upon reading it, it feels like so much more.  Whilst it is slim – the edition which I read ran to only 126 pages – it touches upon so many themes, and its plot is constructed of a weight of layers, each of which comes together beautifully upon its conclusion.

As I invariably am, I was struck by Capote’s writing throughout Summer Crossing; his descriptions particularly hold such beauty: ‘whose green estimating eyes were like scraps of sea’, ‘bones of fish-spine delicacy’, ‘dream-trapped faces’, ‘joyful dark’, and ‘evening effigies embalmed and floating in the caramel-sweet air’ are just a few examples.  The way in which Capote uses words is masterful; he builds scenes in such a stunning manner, and ensures that everything he describes is as vivid as it can possibly be.  For a debut novel, Summer Crossing feels incredibly polished, and wonderfully wrought.  I was swept away into the story from the very first page.  It is fascinating to see how Capote has developed as a writer from these beginnings, but this novel is just as strong, surprising and well-plotted as his later work.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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Our Big Summer Readathon: Truman Capote

Summers are perfect for reading great swathes of books, and what could be better than focusing upon a writer whom everyone has heard of, but whom nobody really seems to read?  I am sure that a lot of you will be familiar with Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, but have you read any of Truman Capote’s short stories before?  Are you familiar with his other novella, The Grass Harp?  Do you know what his recently discovered novel, Summer Crossing, is about?

Whether you answered no to any of the above questions, or if you squealed a ‘yes’ and are excited about what may be coming next, we would love you to join us with our Big Summer Readathon.  Lizzi from theselittlewords and I have decided to read through a lot of American author Truman Capote’s work over the next two months, and will be scheduling posts with our reviews on the last two days of both July and August.  Both of us are using the fabulous A Capote Reader as our starting point, and shall be reading Summer Crossing as an accompanying volume (the review for this will be posted in mid-August).

Our Big Summer Readathon schedule is as follows:

July:
Novella – The Grass Harp
Short stories – ‘Miriam’, ‘My Side of the Matter’, ‘A Tree of Night’, ‘Jug of Silver’, ‘The Headless Hawk’, ‘Shut a Final Door’

August:
Novella – Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Short stories – ‘Master Misery’, ‘Children on Their Birthdays’, ‘A Diamond Guitar’, ‘House of Flowers’, ‘Among the Paths to Eden’, ‘Mojave’
Novel – Summer Crossing

 

If you would like any more information about our readathon, please visit Lizzi’s wonderful introductory post.  If you are planning to join us, please do let us know!  Our aim is to get as many people to read Capote’s fabulous work as we can, and we would love to hear if you want to get involved with our project.