Reviews ...

The rediscovery of Truman Capote's lost novel

... from trash to publication.

by Ed Boyd

This is the novel just rediscovered in the effects left behind by Truman Capote. An Afterword by Alan U. Schwartz, October 2005, tells of the resurrection of "Summer Crossing" in late 2004. Schwartz, trustee of The Truman Capote Literary Trust, has made many decisions regarding the publication of Capote’s works in various media throughout the world.

In the 1950’s Capote decided not to return to a basement apartment he kept in Brooklyn Heights. Capote apparently had instructed the building superintendent to put all his remaining possessions on the street for garbage pickup. When the house sitter realized what was to be done he decided to keep Capote’s possessions. Now, fifty years later, this gentleman died and a relative decided to sell this material to Sotheby’s. Schwartz was consulted as trustee of The Truman Capote Literary Trust and had to decide on publication of "Summer Crossing." With several readers and after much soul searching, Schwartz decided on publishing. Soul searching because if Capote had abandoned "Summer Crossing", what right did he have in publishing the book? With these reservations, "Summer Crossing" was published in 2006.

A good source to find out how Capote himself regarded "Summer Crossing" is the 630 pages of Gerald Clarke’s marvelous biography, Capote. Published in 1988 by Simon & Schuster it gives a wonderful, speckled life of Truman Capote.

Early, on p.79, Capote says, “More and more, "Summer Crossing" seemed to me thin, clever, unfelt. Another language, a spiritual geography, was burgeoning inside me, taking hold of my nightdream hours as well as my wakeful daydreams.”   Later, when we look at the story itself, we may want to keep these words in mind. And these words, “ I have fine hopes for "Summer Crossing", and feel alive and justified in doing it, but it makes me nervous all the time, which is probably a good sign, and I do not feel like talking about it, which is another.’

Much later, Capote decides to abandon "Summer Crossing." His editor, Linscott, says it does not have Capote’s  “…distinctive artistic voice.” Reluctantly, Capote comes to the same conclusion. “I read it over maybe two or three times, and one day I just decided: I don’t really like it. I think it’s well written and it’s got a lot of style, but I really don’t like it. And so I tore it up.”

As it turned out, fifty years later, "Summer Crossing"  is a manuscript of four notebooks written in ink and heavily corrected in Capote’s hand. Apparently, Capote had trouble with destroying his own writing.  

Why Capote decided to scrap "Summer Crossing" is best left to Divine Providence. Still, it challenges the imagination to wonder why this document appears when it does. Capote says, “I tore it up”, but he did not.  We are tempted to believe that Capote knew that "Summer Crossing" would be unearthed someday and published along with his other work. Somewhere, off in the distance, you can almost feel his smile, mischievous as he was.

The story is about Grady McNeil who is about to see her parents off on a "Summer Crossing."  When we read other Capote stories like “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” and the “Grass Harp” there is kind of a flow, smoothness not present in "Summer Crossing." Maybe this has something to do with her disturbed relationship with her mother, told at the beginning of page four. Grady says, “…she’d never, not even as a very small girl, much liked her mother."  This sets the tone for the book that hangs in the air throughout.

At seventeen, Grady is left alone in New York with a blue Buick convertible to tool around in. It’s not long before she meets Clyde Manzer, a parking lot attendant. Even the name Manzer gives a sense of foreboding. Grady says, “He was not the first lover she had known.” When she was sixteen she had an affair with Steve Bolton, husband of Janet Bolton. Janet was pregnant at the time so this made Grady available for Steve. Grady as a teenager has already had two lovers. What is interesting is that no sexual details are given. To be sure, this story was written in the relatively chaste ‘50’s. Still, you might expect some skin or a groan or two. Capote was flamboyantly homosexual. Maybe the absence of sexual details has something to do with Capote’s difficulty in portraying a heterosexual female? This is probably not the reason, but it does make you wonder.

Grady and Clyde use the New York apartment that belongs to her parents. Clyde becomes more visible as his story unfolds. As we learn more about him you can’t help wonder what Grady sees in him. But, after all, she is only a teenager. Along the way, Grady has an epiphany: “Carefully she moved across the room and raised her eyes to a mirror: nor was Grady the same. She was not a child. It had been so ideal an excuse she somehow had persisted in a notion that she was. For instance, she said to Peter it had not occurred to her whether or not she might marry Clyde, that the truth had been the truth, but only because she’d thought of it as a problem for a grown-up…her own life was sure had not started; though now seeing herself dark and pale in the mirror, she knew it had been going on for a long while.”

Shortly after, Grady marries Clyde. Just before, “Snatching her hand, he pulled her along with him…as they leaned together, panting, he put into her hand a bunch of violets, and she knew, quite as though she’d seen it done, that they were stolen.” This is mindful of “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”. The thrill of stealing is embedded in both stories. It makes you wonder why this seems to seal her marriage.

They spend time with Mrs. Manzer but Clyde does not want to tell her that they are married, just yet. It is not long before Grady, “…was not quite six weeks pregnant."

This is enough to give a sense of these two characters and to imagine what might happen. Why did Capote decide to abandon "Summer Crossing?" This story seems too close to the bone for Capote. We know of his self-destructive life in his later years. He trashed all of his friends and drank himself to death. Capote’s discomfort with this story is not too hard to understand. The ending is very telling. “…Gump cried, ‘Damn it, you’ll kill us,’ but he could not loosen her hands from the steering wheel: she said, ‘I know.”

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