Book Review :: The Grass Harp and Other Stories

What do you get when a judge, one half of a pair of old spinster sisters, an Indian and a 16 year-old boy decide to move to the woods and live in a dilapidated tree house? You get the apropos backdrop for a Southern novella, part of Truman Capote’s collection The Grass Harp: Including The Tree of Night and Other Stories.

I first read Capote in college – Children on Their Birthdays – which happens to be a part of this collection – and somewhat like my experience of reading Alice Munro earlier this year, it felt comfortable to be reading Capote again. Most of the stories could be called Southern gothic, though after The Grass Harp, the stories alternate in setting between the south and New York City, much like Capote himself.

And, as I was reading these, there was distinct nagging to be back in Dr. Hitchcock’s Southern Lit class where we could discuss the complex pscychological and interpersonal layers that make Capote’s characters both appalling and intriguing. Children are frequent characters in this collection – showing up to shine a spotlight on an adult’s inner psyche. Such is the case with 12 year-old Miriam, who actually may not even exist except as a hallucinatory alter-ego of the main character with the same name.

Dreams are another common theme in the collection. They appear in the literal sense (a dream a character may have at night) but quickly take on a figurative meaning as with the character who begins “selling her dreams” only to find herself lost of self. And, mirroring the author’s life, there are many dream chasers.

And so, with this strong urge to talk about these stories, has anyone read the collection? In honor of Capote, I think it only fitting we share a bottle to discuss!

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5 Replies to “Book Review :: The Grass Harp and Other Stories

  1. I've not read much Capote. I read In Cold Blood, a reading experience that I will never forget. I've seen the movie versions of Breakfast at Tiffany's & The Grass Harp, but that is most decidedly not experiencing the man himself.

    Maybe I'll fit some Capote into my TBR….

  2. Stacie – I loved In Cold Blood…I actually meant to work a mention into this review & then didn't. That is definitely one of "best books ever." And his Christmas stories are really good, too. I'm actually very intrigued with Capote & his life. It has all the makings for a haunted life – which really does show up in his literature. As juxtaposed with Flannery who has it in her literature, but her life was pretty mild comparatively. I'll bring you my collection & give you about three or four of the stories to read for a brief taste.

  3. Capote is one of my favorite authors. I love to revisit his work over and over. I've read "The Grass Harp" a few times and always find something new. Capote has a way of writing about Southerners that respects idiosyncracies and eccentricity without playing to stereotypes or being patronizing. I love reading Capote because he "speaks" to me as only a true Southerner can. If you are from the South you know what I mean…he has a haunting way about his writing that strikes a chord. It's a difficult concept to put into words.

  4. @Tiff – Thanks! I was looking for something a little more cheerful, what with all the dark lit I review…. 😉 And, Stacie and I were talking off line about Capote… it is a shame that he had the flamboyant and drunken public life that he did. I think it took some much deserved attention away from his writing. I, too, think he's one of my favorites – and speaks so well to the Southern heart.

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