Mon April 10, 2006
Truman Capote wrote the first draft of Summer Crossing in the fall of 1946 in Monroeville, Alabama, on an extended visit "home." But Capote continued to work on the manuscript on and off, for another six years, first abandoning it for Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), the story collection A Tree of Night (1949), and the essay collection Local Color (1951).
By Don Noble
Truman Capote wrote the first draft of Summer Crossing in the fall of 1946 in Monroeville, Alabama, on an extended visit "home." He was not happy with this short novel, writing to a friend, "More and more, Summer Crossing seemed to me thin, clever, unfelt."
But Capote continued to work on the manuscript on and off, for another six years, first abandoning it for Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), the story collection A Tree of Night (1949), and the essay collection Local Color (1951). He worked on the manuscript again in Sicily in 1950 and then, when he abandoned his Brooklyn apartment forever, he left it behind, to be put out to the curb.
The new tenant, however, decided to keep it, along with a boxful of other materials, manuscripts of published stories, photos, and letters. The manuscript resurfaced in 2004 when that man's heir took the box to Sotheby's, to be auctioned off.
Capote's lawyer and literary executor, Alan U. Schwartz, decided to publish only after consulting Gerald Clark, Capote's biographer, the fiction writer James Salter, and others. All agreed that readers would like to see it.
The plot of Summer Crossing is a simple one. Grady McNeil, seventeen,the daughter of a financier, is having a love affair with a most inappropriate young man, Clyde Manzer, from Brooklyn, Jewish, older, an Army veteran, uneducated, rough, who works parking cars in a lot in Manhattan. Grady's parents will cross the Atlantic on a luxury liner and spend the summer in Europe. Grady declines to go with them. In a long hot summer of unimpeded freedom with Clyde Manzer, Grady will cross her Rubicon.
Grady is rebellious, sophisticated, bored, a hothouse flower who wants to be a roadside Daisy, or thinks she does. The affair is physical, steamy; Grady is slumming, and only the most obtuse romantic could imagine that it will end well. Clyde's family is no more comfortable with Grady than her family would be with Clyde.
This is, as Capote realized, not a strong book, but it has its interesting points. At times Capote's brilliant style is evident: "From the balcony she could see steeples and pennants far over the city quivering in a solution of solid afternoon . . . . The bed was covered in blue and the blue spread before her like depthless sky." Capote was the F. Scott Fitzgerald of his generation.
The character Grady is in many ways a rehearsal for Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958). And here in the late forties we see already Truman's fascination for the lives of the very rich, especially females, a fascination which he will indulge mightily after the success of In Cold Blood. The barely fictionalized lives of these rich society women would become the subject of Answered Prayers.
Answered Prayers was published posthumously, as is Summer Crossing. This raises an entirely different but not uninteresting question: what about publishing material the author deemed not yet ready, or, in this case, a manuscript the author meant to go out with the garbage?
Ernest Hemingway never threw out works in progress; he put them aside to be looked at later. So there has been a stream of posthumous books: from Islands in the Stream to True at First Light, each one less good than the last. But it is important to keep in mind that Ernest knew that these pieces weren't ready, and besides, the dimness of True at First Light in no way diminishes the brilliance of The Sun Also Rises.
So it is with Capote. For avid readers of Capote, here is something you haven?t seen before. Enjoy it, but take it for what it is, a discarded fiction, and do not allow Summer Crossing to diminish your opinion of In Cold Blood. And as for the royalties--they all go to the Truman Capote Literary Trust, which funds many scholarships for young writers. There is no better cause.
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.