Even though Summer Crossing was Truman Capote’s first novel, it was never published during his lifetime. Apparently Capote left it behind in his Brooklyn apartment and it was only 20 years after his death that it was found and made its way to a publisher. Luckily it did, because even though it was his first novel it already proofs young Capote to be a brilliant writer. The prose is poetic and the story haunting.
Young, beautiful and rebellious Grady McNeil, a upper class Protestant debutante, gets to spend the summer alone in the family penthouse. She has fallen in love with Clyde, a Jewish parking lot attendant from Brooklyn. What follows is anything but a simple summer love and also goes far beyond a rebellious teen love story. Rather it paints an interesting picture of a set of people who spend a lot of time hiding their feelings. Every character in the novel has their own idea, their own version of the truth and their own life path they are on. The paths do cross, but it seems more by chance than on purpose. These paths that the characters are on, will lead them all into disaster but it is questionable when or even if this disaster could have been prevented at all. Instead the characters spend more time hiding from each other, afraid to express their feelings and thoughts and it is only through flashes that true feelings sometimes touch the other person:
“… as their fingers touched around the glass stem, she had a sudden preposterous notion: is it possible, are you in love with me?”
To me, Summer Crossing is not a coming of age story, it is a story about characters realizing that they already are of age, and yet are unable to face the life that has been set out for them by their family and heritage.
“Marriages happened far ahead when life grey and earnest had begun, and her own life she was sure had not yet started; though now, seeing herself dark and pale in the mirror, she knew it had been going on a very long while.”
It is also not a classic love story. Even though love and attraction play an important role I felt that no one was being swept of their feet here. They all chose to fall or stay in love but the love somehow seemed to be contained within their own minds. Like the people that they loved were props and actors they arranged and directed in their minds:
“a knowledge that he could not be sewn into the practical material of her future: indeed, it was that because of this almost that she’d chosen to love him.”
Capote did create a very interesting female character with Grady McNeil, she is independent, a tomboy, and follows her own path instead of the one that has been laid out for her by society. In what way she can truly escape a normal life or to what coast is a question that the reader is left with in the end.
What is maybe most beautiful about this novel is the description of New York in the summer:
“With every step heat’s stale breath yawned in their faces. Starless nightfall sky had closed down like a coffin lid, and the avenue, with its newsstands of disaster and flickering fly-buzz sounds of neon, seemed an elongated, stagnant corpse. The pavement was wet with rain of electric color[…]”. I felt that the city itself was a character and with the progression of the story the description of its oppression grew stronger and stronger.
It is definitely a novel that has stayed on my mind in the days after I had finished it. I kept coming back to parts of the story and parts of Capotes prose and the inextricability of beauty and disaster. In the end the language was far more romantic than the story.