After putting this book off for more than a month so that it would fit within The Literary Others reading event and after it sat on my shelf since I purchased it from the 2011 Boston Book Festival I’ve finally gotten around to reading it. I’m not really sure if it was worth the build up to keep putting it off, but it was an interesting read. In addition to being a part of The Literary Others Event it also counts towards my Mount TBR Reading Challenge (23/25)!
This is only the second Capote work I’ve read and it was very different compared to In Cold Blood, which I read before I started this blog. Other Voices, Other Rooms is Capote’s first published novel and is semi-autobiographical. You can definitely see the personal influence from the effeminate young boy to the faded rich southern decadence you catch glimpses of throughout.
It did take a while to adapt to the writing style, but I did adapt to it. I thoroughly enjoyed the story even if there were parts that were unsettling. I mean someone gets shot, there’s a suicide (but a very odd one), what a midget woman who sexually molests young boys, there might be ghosts, there are definitely phantoms and southern decadence in decay is heavily prevalent. I’ve always been a fan of Southern Fiction and the older I get the more I find myself reading it.
The characters were all interestingly written and created an impact, but by far my favorite were Idabel and Joel. Who doesn’t love a couple of ambiguously gendered teens confused about their sexuality coming of age in the south? Considering the 1948 publication date and an openly homosexual character how could you not be impressed?
Literary Others Synthesis
According to Wikipedia, so take it for what it’s worth, Other Voices, Other Rooms was one of only four familiar gay novels of the first half of the 20th century, including novels by Djuna Burnes, Carson McCullers and Gore Vidal. And it’s McCullers which is most interesting to me. As an undergraduate for my final seminar in History I wrote a research paper on Carson McCullers and Tennessee Williams and how they were openly homosexual, wrote about openly sexual deviant characters and yet experienced very little backlash to their works when it was first published. And Truman Capote could go right into this same little group and I believe this is because of how the characters end up. There is no happy ending, or light at the end of the tunnel. However, according to Wikipedia,
Ian Young points out that Other Voices, Other Rooms notably avoided the period convention of an obligatory tragedy, typically involving suicide, murder, madness, despair or accidental death for the gay protagonist.
Which is the opposite of what I feel. Although none of the homosexual or questionable characters die, none of them have that happy ending which was missing from most LGBT literature until the last decade or so. Although Joel closes the novel with acceptance of himself and doesn’t sound completely downtrodden and ruined for life, his actual opportunity in life is incredibly bleak; Randolph’s already tragically lost to despair before we even meet him; and Idabel’s future is the most ambiguous with the reader only knowing that she’s run off and may, or may-not, be with the woman she fell in love with – but probably not as lovers.
Recommendation: I think you have to be in the right mood to enjoy this novel. It was a struggle at first, but overall I did enjoy it. There are few people I would recommend it to because of the writing style, but those I would recommend it to would truly appreciate it.
Opening Line: “Now a traveler must make his way to Noon City by the best means he can, for there are no buses or trains heading in that direction, though six days a week a truck from the Chuberry Turpentine Company collects mail and supplies in the next-door town of Paradise Chapel: occasionally a person bound for Noon City can catch a ride with the driver of the truck, Sam Radcliff.”
Closing Line: “She beckoned to him, shining and silver, and he knew he must go: unafraid, not hesitating, he paused only at the garden’s edge where, as though he’d forgotten something, he stopped and looked back at the bloomless, descending blue, at the boy he had left behind.” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from Other Voices, Other Rooms
“A vine-like latticework of stars frosted the southern sky, and with his eyes he interlinked these spangled vines till he could trace many ice-white resemblances…” (31)
“On these dangerous evening patrols, Joel had witnessed many peculiar spectacles, like the night he’d watched a young girl waltzing stark naked to victrola music; and again, an old lady drop dead while puffing at a fairyland of candles burning on a birthday cake; and most puzzling of all, two grown men standing in an ugly little room kissing each other.” (65)
“The brain may take advice, but not the heart, and love, having no geography, knows no boundaries: weight and sink it deep, no matter, it will rise and find the surface: and why not? any love is natural and beautiful that lies within a person’s nature; only hypocrites would hold a man responsible for what he loves, emotional illiterates and those of righteous envy, who, in their agitated concern, mistake so frequently the arrow pointing to heaven for the one that leads to hell.” (147)
“For anger seemed, if anything, more unsafe than love: only those who know their own security can afford either.” (212)