Although his legacy to the general public stems more from his personality than his creative output, Truman Capote remains – sentence for sentence – one of the greatest American writers. His stories, plays, novella (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), and his famous non-fiction novel In Cold Blood, are all intricate and beautifully crafted works that demand to be read multiple times. Perhaps his most striking creation, however, is his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948).
This is a highly autobiographical novel – published when Capote was 23 – telling the story of Joel Knox, a 13-year old boy sent to stay with his rather peculiar family in Alabama. Truman spent much of his youth in Alabama – similarly placed in the care of close relatives as both of his parents were off pursuing their own interests (they did so separately, though they were not yet divorced). The themes of loneliness, trying to find one’s place in the world, and Joel’s search for clarity in his developing awareness of his homosexuality, make for a delicate and almost insular book that is nonetheless a universal statement on the particular combination that is adolescence and alienation from love. Truman’s words and phrases are among the finest I have ever read, and I can feel the heat of the afternoon and the heaviness of the curtains from inside the darkened rooms of that Alabama house, even now, years after I last read this book.
If, somehow, you have not read Truman Capote before, this is a wonderful place to start. If you simply haven’t read this specific book before, there’s no time like the present.