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Group reads > The Grass Harp - November 2014 - spoilers

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message 1: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
The Grass Harp by Truman Capote The Grass Harp by Truman Capote The Grass Harp by Truman Capote

The discussion is open.


message 2: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Capote is a passion of mine. This story is rather fanciful - a bit far fetched - but touching. The prose is very lush and poetical.


message 3: by Buck (last edited Nov 01, 2014 11:29AM) (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments The Grass Harp - In the beginning of this story it made me think of To Kill A Mockingbird. That's not surprising, I suppose. It's in about the same time frame in a similar setting. And, after all, Truman Capote and Harper Lee knew one another as children.

The writing is so good, so sublime. Capote was a master. The story is charming; seemingly fictional and truthful at the same time. It moves through what seems like carefully constructed phases, each part or chapter of the book perfectly leading to the next. After the climax, -the big ruckus at the tree house and the reconciliation of the sisters- after that, the final chapter, the wrap-up, the epilogue; it seemed to go on too long. That's my only complaint, and it's not a great one. (When something is so well written that its almost-perfectness can't even be seen, to be pointed at, I guess it's easier to see where perhaps it's not perfect.)

I haven't read a lot of Truman Capote - just his most well known things. I think maybe The Grass Harp is the best I've read. It puts him, in my mind, in the same league with any of the best American authors.


message 4: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
He is a master short story writer. I thought Other Voices, Other Rooms a bit gothic - but again the prose is incredible. It was Breakfast at Tiffany's: A Short Novel and Three Stories and then In Cold Blood that won me over. However, the first book of his I read was Music for Chameleons which came out when I was 18 and working in a little bookstore - it is a collection of stories, essays and a non-fiction novella called Handcarved Coffins which made me a convert. I had never read anything by anyone to compare to Capote. I love Dolly and Catherine, and feel Collin's quietly expressed attraction to Riley. I totally agree that Capote belongs in the company of best American authors.


message 5: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments Ivan wrote: "He is a master short story writer. I thought Other Voices, Other Rooms a bit gothic - but again the prose is incredible. It was Breakfast at Tiffany's: A Short Novel and Three Stories and then In Cold Blood that won me over. "

In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany's are the ones I had read before.


message 6: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments There is another book that The Grass Harp made me think of: The Body by Stephen King. Not the story itself or the style of prose, but the way the story seems like it could have been based on something that might have actually happened, and on people that really were, but embellished. Both are stories remembered by men when they were youths. Capote's seems perhaps a little less plausible -two old ladies and two kids and a judge hiding out in a tree house- but the King novella seems perhaps more embellished, and perhaps told from a less mature voice.


message 7: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) I get what you're saying, Buck- that essence of boyhood summer adventure/misadventure, maybe?
I loved The Grass Harp. I love Southern whimsy and sometimes aspects of this story brought back memories from my early years in the south.
I had to return my copy to the library, but I had this question: was there a spoken moment when the sisters officially reconciled, or was it something that was more hinted at, and then they returned to regular life? It seems to me that it was halfway unspoken, that they chose to behave differently and that this was the signal that the crisis was resolved.


message 8: by Buck (last edited Nov 01, 2014 07:49PM) (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments Lora wrote: "I had to return my copy to the library, but I had this question: was there a spoken moment when the sisters officially reconciled, or was it something that was more hinted at, and then they returned to regular life? It seems to me that it was halfway unspoken, that they chose to behave differently and that this was the signal that the crisis was resolved. "

It was said. But Capote could write it in such a way that after it had been read, you could have the feeling that it was all looks and body language.

I still have my library copy. Here are some excerpts from pages 99 and 100, at the end of the penultimate chapter:

“But we have had our lives,” said Verena. “Yours has been nothing to despise, I don’t think you’ve required more than you’ve had; I’ve envied you always. Come home, Dolly. Leave decisions to me: that, you see, has been my life.”

...she spoke , and her voice came so weakly from so very far, not expecting, it seemed, to be heard at all. “Envied you, Dolly. Your pink room. I’ve only knocked at the doors of such rooms, not often— enough to know that now there is no one but you to let me in.

...it’s too long to be alone, a lifetime. I walk through the house, nothing is mine: your pink room, your kitchen, the house is yours, and Catherine’s too, I think. Only don’t leave me, let me live with you. I’m feeling old, I want my sister.”

For Dolly had said, “Forgive me; I want my sister, too,” and the Judge could not reach her, not with his arms, not with his heart: Verena’s claim was too final.



message 9: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
My book is highlighted all over the place. There is just one remarkable passage after another. What's your favorite?


message 10: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Thanks, Buck. What beautiful writing. I just love the heart in this book. I can't even begin to select parts. Not that I have the book in front of me. I think this is one I'll have to get for myself.


message 11: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments Lora wrote: "I get what you're saying, Buck- that essence of boyhood summer adventure/misadventure, maybe?"

Lora, I think that fits King's The Body to a tee. Not so much The Grass Harp though. Collin's relationship with those old ladies doesn't make for the usual teenage adventure.


message 12: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments Ivan wrote: "My book is highlighted all over the place. There is just one remarkable passage after another. What's your favorite?"

A library book doesn't lend itself to highlighting; even mine, a kindle book -the highlighting is lost when the book is returned. I did highlight one thing, though - but it had nothing to do with Capote's prose.

Riley had shot some squirrels and had given the fugitives some for their supper. [The Judge] brushed back the fur of the squirrels, which lay curled in a corner as though they were only asleep. "Right through the head: good shooting, son" I had made this 'marginal' note: Riley had used a shotgun, not a rifle. If shot went only through the head it was the purest luck.

I know, I know; but it was the only thing in the book I highlighted.


message 13: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Oh, you are correct. Nothing is shot clean with shotgun.

"She was one of those people who can disguise themselves as an object in the room, a shadow in the corner, whose presence is a delicate happening."

"If some wizard would like to make me a present, let him give me a bottle filled with the voices of that kitchen, the ha ha ha and fire whispering, a bottle brimming with its buttery sugary baking smells..."


message 14: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) I thought about Collin hanging out with a bunch of old ladies rather than with boys his age. I found it showed that he didn't 'fit' the social norm in some way, somewhere in his heart of hearts. It reminded me of my childhood- I rarely played with dolls, or did girl stuff. I was a tomboy. But I also found old folks calm and accepting, while kids just kept demanding of me why didn't I do this, or why didn't I like that. I loved a good story even when I was a kid, and nobody tells a story like an old folk sitting on their porch rocking the afternoon away. Kids? They were all worried about fitting in. I missed the social status of fitting in, at times, but most of the time I found that my being different served as a kind of deep reassurance.
This boy runs deep, that was one of my thoughts as I read the book. He sure wanted to be like the boys- or be like one heroically proportioned boy- but he also didn't want to be like the boys. I think by the end, when he's grown, he's adopted some of the mannerisms of the boy he emulated, almost like the older boy had been part father figure to him. Or maybe he just adopted the general mannerisms of men of the time, in terms of hair and car, etc. Riley represented the adult to him in someways as well as the carefree male? I don't know.
Ivan, the quote about bottling up the kitchen was a delightful favorite of mine.


message 15: by Paulina (new)

Paulina I think Riley represented the ideal to him, up until the point where he discovers the weakness in him, when he says:

...it's only now, seeing the kind of man he turned out to be, that I understand the paradox of his primness: he wanted so to be respectable that the deflections of others seemed to him backsliding on his own part.

Which is kind of the opposite of Collin - he never cared about respectability.

Ultimately, I think Collin was infatuated with Riley and Maude and felt betrayed and rejected by them both.

Was anyone else really interested in Verena and the theme of homosexuality within the book? I think it was very well depicted and composed beautifully within Verena's characterisation and character growth.


message 16: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
I was. The allusions are always present in Capote's work. He certainly has a gay sensibility. I read Breakfast at Tiffany's as totally gay - the character of the narrator was Capote himself.


message 17: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) I kinda wondered about the theme of homosexuality. I sort of looked for it, but then, I had trouble seeing it. Could you point out the parts that make it apparent? I forgot I wanted to ask about that. I assumed Capote would write in such a way that it could be read either as homosexuality or as a different kind of relationship. Just chalk it up to my naivete and spell it out for me, lol.


message 18: by Ivan (last edited Nov 05, 2014 11:03AM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
It's hard to point it out - it's a certain sensibility. Certainly Verena's infatuation with her married friend - taking out her pictures, her bitterness, her berated the husband - walking around her room in the dark with the pictures spread out and crying.

As for Collin and Riley - "How I longed for him to be my friend..." and then the intimate way, the very personal way he describes Riley. This is a boy enamored with another boy.


message 19: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Ok, I could see that much as I read. I think people can be infatuated with a person in many different ways. So I think I picked up on the hints but saw them open to interpretation. Well, actually, any page of any book is open for interpretation, hee.
I think my favorite parts of the book weren't so much lines, but the characters. And there was, at least I think, a long interval when nobody in that tree talked about the fact that they would eventually have to go home. It just hung between them. They were thinking about it. I love when characters think about things, and to accomplish that best I think they have to be quiet sometimes. Action has its place in a story, but thinking gives it something special.


message 20: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments Lora wrote: "I kinda wondered about the theme of homosexuality. I sort of looked for it, but then, I had trouble seeing it. Could you point out the parts that make it apparent? I forgot I wanted to ask about th..."

That was my reaction also.


message 21: by Ivan (last edited Nov 06, 2014 01:43AM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Yes it's open to interpretation.

I remember my dad telling me that he saw two men at the mall and even though they didn't hold hands or show any signs of intimacy, it crossed his mind that they could be a couple. It amazed him because he never used to think that way.

There are lots of commercials that will feature two men or two women and though there isn't anything in the commercial that would indicate they are an intimate couple, straight people will see them one way and gay people another. Total ambiguity.

Maybe, because I'm gay, I read it that way - that's how it spoke to me.


message 22: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) I think we bring a lot of ourselves into any story we read. One of the big resonances (if that is a word) for me in this story was the whole relationship with the tree. You climb them, you hang out in them, you meet friends in them, you eat in them. That describes an awful lot of my childhood.


message 23: by Ivan (last edited Nov 06, 2014 10:59AM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
You fall from them and get a concussion - which happened to me when I was a boy.

We had great Willow trees in our backyard when I was growing up and we climbed those trees like they were a jungle gym. Oh, what fun we had.

When I'd finally get on my mother's last nerve she'd say: go pick a switch off that willow tree and bring it to me - which meant, go outside and play or else!

That tree had to be pretty impressive in size for a treehouse big enough to hold all those people - but we have some right here in Tallahassee that could certainly do the job - MASSIVE.


message 24: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) I love willows. What graceful things.


message 25: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Did you know that this was adapted twice for Broadway - once by Capote as a play and later by others as a musical with the great Barbara Cook as Dolly? True. Neither had long runs.

[As I type this at 4:42am a great owl is calling in the backyard].


message 26: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Four people in this discussion - out of 300+ members. I know that people see our group and think "that looks cool" and they hit join - and never come back.

Is it the books? Is this hard to find at the library? Is it the moderator? Just wondering.


message 27: by Paulina (new)

Paulina Well, for one I think it's the lack of time and making too many plans. I do that all the time.


message 28: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments Ivan wrote: "Four people in this discussion - out of 300+ members. I know that people see our group and think "that looks cool" and they hit join - and never come back.

Is it the books? Is this hard to find at the library? Is it the moderator? Just wondering. "


I'm in a group that has thousands of members. Only a handful participate. I'm not dissatisfied with the Novella Club at all. I like the discussions we have, even if they aren't heavily populated. It's quality, not quantity.

But, to answer your question - yes, it's the moderator. ;)


message 29: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Thanks, Buck, I wasn't sure I had the courage to say the obvious ;)
I can only say from my experience that I joined some other groups, and found them too much for me to handle. I stopped adding more groups to my Plate of Social Agony, but I don't want to let go of the ones I haven't participated in, either. I see myself one day getting involved, and the dream is a wondrous collage of cleverness and panache, with a side of deep fried human pathos, but then I have to go and do the Real World Dishes.
I stick with the novella group because Ivan has bewitched my mind. And the books I do read for the group are short. And I have even progressed to the point where I look ahead and request them from the library (two for two, yahoo!).
I joined the James Mason group because it looked like fun, and really, it would serve me better in terms of getting me to write more often. But somehow I keep coming back to the novellas when I'm on GR. Just a lotta heart here. And fewer thousands of threads.


message 30: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
I love y'all too.


message 31: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments I just got it from the library last weekend and am currently reading it. I have peeked at a few posts but want to finish before participating. Not sure how to get more lurkers to participate.

I love this group. I just dropped one group because it was TOO large and sprawling. I think this is a niche group. I.e. small. FYI - they also had a discussion about why only X number of members participated!

So appreciate what you do Ivan. Especially appreciate how you handle the diverse opinions that can arise AND you are so accepting of everyone.

Perhaps we need to resuscitate the "ideas to keep the group going" thread.


message 32: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Is china short for a china berry tree?


message 33: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
I think so.


message 34: by Ivan (last edited Nov 15, 2014 05:47AM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
I think one of the primary reasons I respond so emotionally to this story and those that feature a boy and older women is that those have been the most important relationships in my own life - No, not "Summer of '42" type stories, but "The Children of Green Knowe," "A Christmas Memory" and "The Witches." I was very close to my mother growing up, and when I was 10 to 12 my constant companions were a young lesbian couple (one was in girl scouts with my sister) who were into to arts and crafts and Star Trek and The Hobbit. As a teenager and young man I had two mentors who were women - one took a precocious teen under her wing (she's like my Auntie Mame - a show-biz near-do-well - she gave me a marvelous education in theatre lore and musicals comedy) and then a teacher who let me move into her garage apartment and work in her bookstore after I graduated High School. Kay, Venecia and Eleanor - I don't know what my life would have been without them.


message 35: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments Does Capote have any of these characters in any other works?


message 36: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Not these particular characters. However, many of his best short stories - including The Thanksgiving Visitor / A Christmas Memory - are set in the rural south and have that same feeling and quality about them.


message 37: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Older women represent a lot to us in our culture- or they used to. The wise grandmother figure is an archetype. I spent many a long summer evening not at the playground, where I got pushed around, but at the old folk's home, where a gaggle of old ladies would tell me all sorts of stories. It was very maternal.
Our society now tends to warehouse old people until they die. At least I do know a couple oldsters who resist that temptation and live full and joyous lives. They are an inspiration.


message 38: by Martin (new)

Martin Marais I started this book with enthusiasm, but I ran out of steam. I put it down a week ago and have not had the interest to pick it up again. That does not mean it is not good, as the host of positive comment proves and it is good to see so many of you enjoying it, but it's just not my thing.


message 39: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) That's ok, there have been several books on the list that I skipped over completely. And maybe one or two that I should have skipped. I loved this one, and was pleasantly surprised by that experience.
What about the book was the first sign to you that it wasn't for you? Usually there's a beginning suspicion, in my experience, followed by building evidence.


message 40: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments An odd thing happened to me while reading the Grass Harp. It was likely 30 years ago when I read it. At the time, I had difficulty understanding the elderly aunts. They weirded me out. But I could relate to the young narrator. (Did anyone notice that he remained nameless? And, why???)

NOW, I relate to the aunts and marvel at how much the narrator loved Dolly and accepted Verena.


message 41: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments However, my appreciation of Capote only deepened. This book was so much more than what I remember. His descriptions more amazing. "Just entering the woods, there was a double-trunked China tree, really two trees, but their branches were so embraced that you could step from one into the other; in fact, they were bridged by a tree-house: spacious, sturdy, a model of a tree-house, it was like a raft floating in the sea of leaves."

In just one sentence, the word choice sets the story to come. So many other typical words could have been used, but Capote chose "embraced" to described the branches. And the tree-house is a "raft" which it most certainly becomes.

Then, later in the same paragraph, "But Catherine felt no love for the tree-house; she did not know as Dolly knew and made me know, that it was a ship, that to sit up there was to sail along the cloudy coastline of every dream. Mark my word, said Catherine, them boards are too old, them nails are slippery as worms, gonna crack in two, gonna fall and bust our heads don't I know it." The reader is just lazily dreaming along, as the refugees do later in the tree, and BAM! The real and ignorant world intrudes bursting that bubble with "worms" and "nails" and falling and cracking and busting our heads.

Amazing foreshadowing.


message 42: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) That was a great scene, yes.
It's interesting how we change over the years. My tastes in reading are VERY different from what they used to be, sometimes nearly opposite. I just been through enough life to have my personality rewritten, I guess.


message 43: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
The narrator was Collin Fenwick - wasn't it?

Yes, lazily dreaming along - from the first page.


message 44: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments Mmars wrote: " (Did anyone notice that he remained nameless? And, why???)"

Ivan wrote: "The narrator was Collin Fenwick - wasn't it?"

Ivan is correct, isn't he? My copy is back at the library so I can't check.

Your are so right about Capote's phrasing, Mmars. Artfully sublime.


message 45: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments I couldn't remember and flipped through about a third of the book without anyone saying his name. But I remember Fenwick and you're likely right Ivan. Finished about 10 days before that post. Names elude me sometimes.


message 46: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
It's cold out. Thanksgiving is over and done. I think it might be time to get out some of the Christmas movies - including the original "A Christmas Memory" with Geraldine Page from 1966 - written and narrated by Capote himself - sublime viewing.


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