Truman Capote circa 1930
Last night I read an excerpt from Truman Capote’s ‘A Tree of Night,’ and then I started to read Belva Plain’s ‘The Golden Cup.’
The latter is a charming story and easily read, but not what I would call ‘pulp fiction.’ The writing is good and the story engaging; just the thing to read oneself to sleep. Capote’s work, though, is the memorable story. Plain’s story began to leave my mind when I put the book down, while Capote’s story stayed in my mind and worked its way into my dreams.
I found myself reading Capote out loud. Not to read him out loud was to find myself reaching forward for a plot line, and Capote’s writing isn’t just about plot, or even mostly about plot. It begins simply–single words, descriptive words from a simple place: A young woman returns to school after attending her uncle’s funeral. Then it becomes the stuff of the unconscious mind, and it does it word by word.
Both Plain and Capote are good writers but only one, I think, is an artist. And, interestingly enough, it isn’t the one who will be most widely read. — Mona L S Baisch
Note: Belva Plain died in 2010 at the age of 95. Born Belva Offenberg, Plain grew up an only child on the upper East Side of Manhattan, the daughter of a successful real estate developer. Her father’s grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Germany; her mom’s ancestors were Irish Catholics. She graduated Barnard College and had a writing career spanning three decades. Ms. Plain came late to writing; she had raised her three children before beginning to write her first novel ‘Evergreen.’ Most things about her life were normal, although the tragedy of her heritage must have impressed her life. From all accounts, Ms. Plain, who died quietly in her sleep, was a comfortable, pleasant person. It is interesting that she never achieved another success equal to her first book.
Truman Capote died in 1984 at the age of 60. Capote was the only son of 17-year-old Lillie Mae Faulk and salesman Archulus Persons, who divorced when he was 4 years old. Capote attended a number of schools graduating from the Upper West Side private school (now the Dwight School) in 1943; that was the end of his education. He began writing at the age of 12. Many things about his life were unusual. Not many people can be said to have angered Robert Frost; an interesting but not isolated instance of personality clashes. Capote befriended Pulitzer prize novelists, was himself one, was out-of-the-closet when it wasn’t particularly fashionable. He died from liver cancer, complicated by phlebitis and multiple drug intoxication. It is interesting that his last book was his crowing achievement, and he never completed another book after ‘In Cold Blood.’