Truman Capote's earlier works still resonate

October 30, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

Before he declined, he dazzled.

While some writers gain power as they mature, Truman Capote, subject of a new feature film, Capote, spiraled down, personally and professionally. But several of his works, mostly the early ones, qualify as very good literature:

Other Voices, Other Rooms: This 1948 book was Capote's first published novel, and it was a fine start. Vivid and lean, it's the story of Joel Knox, who is searching for his lost father - a theme drawn directly from Capote's life. He was 23 when the novel came out, and it could be argued that he never surpassed it until In Cold Blood in 1965.

Summer Crossing: Although Other Voices, Other Rooms was Capote's first published novel, it was the second he had written. He revealed years later that the Summer Crossing manuscript had been lost. It was found recently, and Random House will publish it next week. Capote's verdict? "Not bad, as I remember. Technically accomplished, an interesting enough tale, but without intensity or pain ... "

A Diamond Guitar: Capote did not produce many short stories, but he wrote some memorable ones. This one, set on a prison farm, is a rather bleak tale, but Capote brightens it with his phrasing - "scraps of sunlight blew about them like butterflies."

A Christmas Memory: Yes, it's sentimental, which is why it got the Hallmark Hall of Fame treatment some years back. But it's so charming that one overlooks the schmaltz: "Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town."

In Cold Blood: The problems with this "nonfiction novel" are well-documented. But the bottom line is that this story of one of the most infamous murders in American history is a piece of howling darkness, a narrative that gets inside you and shadows your soul. My first time, I read it in two sittings - and the sleep I got between those sessions was profoundly disturbed by a series of dreams.

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