Summer Crossing was Truman Capote’s first novel, written in the 1940’s it was believed to have been lost – Capote had claimed to have destroyed the manuscript – however it was discovered in 2004 and published the following year. In an afterward to my edition, Capote’s friend and lawyer, Alan L Schwartz explains how the novel came to be discovered and published, explaining how he had to wrestle over the decision whether to publish the novel Capote had cast aside or not. Schwartz’s story in itself is an interesting one, and I am sure the majority of Capote fans must be glad he did publish.
The interest for Capote readers I suppose lies mainly in this being Capote’s first novel. The reader cannot expect A Summer Crossing to have the same classic quality as Breakfast at Tiffany’s or the unforgettable brilliance of In Cold Blood, however Capote’s prose still shines, he was an exceptional writer, and in Grady McNeil we perhaps have the beginnings of the character who would later become Holly Golightly herself.
“Hot weather opens the skull of a city, exposing its white brain, and its heart of nerves, which sizzle like the wires inside a lightbulb. And there exudes a sour extra-human smell that makes the very stone seem flesh-alive, webbed and pulsing.”
Set in New York during the hot summer of 1945, Summer Crossing tells the story of Grady McNeil the seventeen year old daughter of a highly privileged prosperous family from the upper echelons of New York society. Named for the baby brother who died before she was born, Grady is beautiful, spoilt and defiant. Refusing to join her parents on their annual foreign travels, Grady is left behind in the family’s New York apartment.
Taking advantage of her parent’s absence Grady seeks to fulfil the excitement that she craves outside of her conventional family. Several months earlier Grady had met a Jewish parking attendant Clyde Manzer, with who she’s now quick to embark upon a secret affair. In the background is the nice, handsome Peter Bell, a good friend and possible suitor, socially he is much more suitable. For Grady, Clyde represents everything her family would disapprove of, as the summer continues their romance heats up, with Grady bringing Clyde to the family penthouse in what feels like an act of particular defiance.
“He loved her, he loved her, and until he’d loved her she had never minded being alone, she’d liked too much to be alone. At school, where all the girls had crushes on one another and trailed in sweetheart pairs, she had kept to herself: except once, and that was when she’d allowed Naomi to adore her. Naomi, scholarly, and bourgeois as a napkin ring, had written her passionate poems that really rhymed, and once she’d let Naomi kiss her on the lips. But she had not loved her: it is very seldom that a person loves anyone they cannot in some way envy: she could not envy any girl, only men: and so Naomi became mislaid in her thoughts, then lost, like an old letter, one which had never been carefully read.”
Travelling to New Jersey the couple marry, suddenly and with what appears to be little thought. Caught up in this heady, deeply unwise relationship Grady is too young to realise the enormity of her rash act. Meeting Clyde’s family in Brooklyn however, Grady is faced with the reality of their social inequality. Grady leaves Clyde behind in the city while she visits her elder sister Apple in East Hampton, here she reveals her marriage and early pregnancy to her appalled sister, just before Clyde turns up to claim his wife.
In true Truman Capote fashion, things do take a rather darker turn, at the conclusion of this slight novel, I was expecting something of the kind, but I was still quite shocked. Summer Crossing certainly has that wonderful sense of place that I have come to associate with Capote’s writing, and I enjoyed and engaged with the novel. As a first novel, cast aside more than fifty years ago, it shows so much of what was to come. I am so pleased that I rounded off my August reading of Capote with this novel,(yes I am still reviewing August’s books) it is certainly worth exploring if you are a fan of his work.