The Books: “The Grass Harp” – “Shut a Final Door” (Truman Capote)

Daily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction:

180px-GrassHarp1.JPGStill in the short-story collection The Grass Harp: Including A Tree of Night and Other Stories – by Truman Capote. Next story is “Shut a Final Door”. The strangest thing to me about this story is that it was written in the 1940s – and yet appears to describe to a T the disaster awaiting Capote later in his life, when all of his friends abandoned him – due to the betrayal they felt after the publication of one chapter of his much-buzzed-about new book – which turned out to be a bitchy expose of the shallowness of all of his friends. Capote never recovered emotionally from the shattering experience of being dropped by everybody – it was like one minute he was throwing the black and white ball, the toast of the city – and the next? His phone stopped ringing completely. This story is about a man being cut off like that, and knowing, without anyone having to tell him, how much he is despised. Capote wrote this story as a young man, but it’s oddly prophetic. You would totally think he had drawn on the Cote d’Azur debacle – but no, this came from his potent imagination. Perhaps he always knew how fragile his standing would ALWAYS be, with anyone. Who knows.

A guy named Walter hides out in a hot hotel room, running away from the catastrophe in New York – he has been a shit-disturber (the details elude me) – something to do with his boss, and the girl he is screwing – He’s a gossip, and also relatively cynical. Sort of a monster if you want to know the truth. Slowly, a series of events lead to Walter being fired – and to him being “shunned” by his fabulous group of friends. It happens quite suddenly. One day, he is no longer welcome in his own life.

And its not just upsetting. It’s scary. Because he is hated, and he knows it.

Here’s an excerpt:

Excerpt from The Grass Harp: Including A Tree of Night and Other Stories – by Truman Capote – “Shut a Final Door”.

His apartment, a one-room walk-up near Gramercy Park, needed an airing, a cleaning, but Walter, after pouring a drink, said to hell with it and stretched out on the couch. What was the use? No matter what you did or how hard you tried, it all came finally to zero; everyday everywhere everyone was being cheated, and who was there to blame? It was strange, though; lying here sipping whiskey in the dusk-graying room he felt calmer than he had for God knows how long. It was like the time he’d failed algebra and felt so relieved, so free: failure was definite, a certainty, and there is always peace in certainties. Now he would leave New York, take a vacation trip; he had a few hundred dollars, enough to last until fall.

And, wondering where he should go, he all at once saw, as if a film had commenced running in his head, silk caps, cherry-colored and lemon, and little, wise-faced men wearing exquisite polka-dot shirts. Closing his eyes, he was suddenlyl five years old, and it was delicious remembering the cheers, the hot dogs, his father’s big pair of binoculars. Saratoga! Shadows masked his face in the sinking light. He turned on a lamp, fixed another drunk, put a rumba record on the phonograph, and began to dance, the soles of his shoes whispering on the carpet: he’d often thought that with a little training he could’ve been a professional.

Just as the music ended, the telephone rang. He simply stood there, afraid somehow to answer, and the lamplight, the furniture, everything in the room went quite dead. When at last he thought it had stopped, it commenced again; louder, it seemed, and more insistent. He tripped over a footstool, piked up the receiver, dropped and recovered it, said: “Yes?”

Long0distance, a call from some town in Pennsylvania, the name of which he didn’t catch. Following a series of spasmic rattlings, a voice, dry and sexless and altogether unlike any he’d ever heard before, came through: “Hello, Walter.”

“Who is this?”

No answer from the other end, only a sound of strong orderly breathing; the connection was so good it seemed as though whoever it was was standing beside him with lips pressed against his ear. “I don’t like jokes. Who is this?”

“Oh, you know me, Walter. You’ve known me a long time.” A click, and nothing.

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3 Responses to The Books: “The Grass Harp” – “Shut a Final Door” (Truman Capote)

  1. Eleanor says:

    I’ve just read this story and am baffled as to whom the voice that keeps calling him belongs to – do you have any idea??

  2. Anna C says:

    I believe you mean La Cote Basque.
    The voice calling is death stalking him.

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