When an unpublished manuscript belonging to a conveniently dead famous writer is discovered, it usually turns out the stuff should have been left in the drawer.
Truman Capote's Summer Crossing, out this week, is an exception.
The manuscript to Summer Crossing was found last year among a collection of previously unknown Capote papers being offered to the auction house Sotheby's.
Capote, of course, is very much in the news with the release of the acclaimed film by the same name. But this newly discovered book is, most assuredly, not where readers should begin an acquaintance with the author.
Summer Crossings, begun by Capote in 1943, reads like a weak imitation of his later Breakfast at Tiffany's with a touch of the very early F. Scott Fitzgerald's tales of debutantes. Still, there are glimmers of unmistakable talent. The writing can be awkward, but Capote gives insights into his characters' psyches. He creates their emotional and sexual underpinnings in a fresh and original manner.
Summer Crossing details a summer in the life of Grady McNeil. A fetching 17-year-old girl whose father is a celebrated titan of Wall Street and whose Southern debutante mother is a celebrated fixture of Manhattan's top social tier, Grady seems to have a path that is clearly defined. But she also possesses a ferocious will and an unconventional streak.
Much to her delight, Grady is left alone while her parents sail off to Europe just after World War II to check on their home in France. Grady plans to continue her affair with a most unsuitable young man, an uneducated Jewish war veteran who works at the parking lot where she keeps her car.
The relationship has the elements of a stereotypical romance: the upper-class socialite with her lower-class swain. Capote, however, subtly explores the dynamics of sexual attraction and family bonds.
Summer Crossing is not Capote at his best, but it is him at his beginning, and the results are intriguing.
*Read an excerpt of Summer Crossing at books.usatoday.com.
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