Book Review: Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote


Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948) begins with a pre-teen boy arriving to move in with the father he never knew, hoping to avoid going to military school.  In a sense it’s the same premise as Ricky Schroeder’s 1980’s sitcom Silver Spoons.  Unfortunately for Joel, the young protagonist of this novel, he does not find his father to be an affable man-child who drives a train around his mansion.  In fact, Joel does not find his father at all until more than halfway through the novel, Mr. Samson being mysteriously hidden at his own home at Skully’s Landing.

Instead, Joel becomes acquainted with the eccentric cast of Southern Gothic figures who live on and around Skully’s Landing.  There’s his grouchy step-mother Amy, odd-ball cousin Randolph, a maid named Zoo Fever who helps Joel settle in but dreams of running away, and the tomboy Idabel who becomes Joel’s only friend.  Unable to escape from Skully’s Landing, Joel escapes further into his mind (the “other room”) as the only way to keep above the nuttiness around him.  When he finally meets his father, well lets just say it’s not very pleasant either and they don’t end up playing Pac-Man together.

There’s not so much of a plot in this novel, just more of vignettes of Joel’s daily life as he sinks more into the morass of Skully’s Landing.  Capote’s prose is beautiful, if just plain weird and full of the grotesque.  It’s kind of reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird in tone but lacking the hope and wonder of that novel.  Here the discoveries that come with growing older are not edifying but demoralizing.

Author Capote, Truman, 1924-1984
Title Other voices, other rooms.
Publication Info. New York, Random House [1948]
Description 231 p. 22 cm.

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