Summer Crossing, also known as Truman Capote’s first novel, was lost for almost half a decade after Capote cast it aside to work on other things. Though it may have been his first work, the themes that he explores in later novels (notably Breakfast at Tiffany’s) are still present: those of longing, forbidden love and the classes.

Grady McNeil is a beautiful 17 year old living in New York City during the 1940s. In the summer of 1945, with money, opportunities and the highest social standing behind her, Grady is left to her own devices while her parents sail across to Europe. Although she has the affections of Peter Bell, who has both money and the same high social stature as herself, she clings onto Clyde, a Jewish parking lot attendant. Despite the differences in goals, money and social ranking, Grady falls deeply in love with Clyde. However, her rash decisions end up having huge consequences, and suddenly first love looks like it won’t conquer all.

From what I’ve read of Truman Capote, I actually have to say that I prefer his fiction over his non-fiction. Though he revolutionised storytelling with his ‘non-fiction fiction’ with In Cold Blood (an impressive feat of investigative journalism and storytelling), I find his oddly sweet, simple fiction far more compelling.

Summer Crossings, in its essence, is a very simple novel: it’s about first love, and how it can blind us from everything that is rational. Though this is a story that has been told time and again by authors, Capote turns it slightly on its head – although Grady has everything going for her, looks, money and class, she is oddly a rather unsavoury protagonist. Rather than align us with her thoughts and feelings, as a reader I felt strangely distanced by her, largely due to a combination of her elitist ways and, strangely enough, her gullibility. Despite, or perhaps because of, her ‘perfect’ life, Grady assumes that she will get her way with Clyde…although she quickly realises (although far too late), that money and class cannot solve everything.

Capote also has a brilliant skill of setting a scene with the (apparent) greatest of ease: although he doesn’t use particularly descriptive writing, big words or flowery, long-winded descriptions, he somehow conveys the mood and feelings of a time and place. Even though it was written over half a decade a go, I still felt as though I was besides Grady in the summer of 1945, watching with horror as she starts to slide down the slippery slope of circumstance.

Perfect as a summer read or a book to while away time in the park, Summer Crossing is an example of simple, clean writing at its finest. Whether you’re in New York at the ‘scene of the crime’ so to speak, or on the other side of the world (like me!), you will get a sense of joy and completeness from this short novel by Truman Capote.

 

Are you a fan of Summer Crossing? Have you read anything by Truman Capote, fiction or non-fiction? Let me know!

summer crossing by truman capote

Summer Crossing – (image taken from http://www.upload.wikimedia.org)

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