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The Grass Harp: Including A Tree of Night and Other Stories (1951)

by Truman Capote

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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8611417,957 (4.09)38
Set on the outskirts of a small Southern town, The Grass Harp tells the story of three endearing misfits--an orphaned boy and two whimsical old ladies--who one day take up residence in a tree house. As they pass sweet yet hazardous hours in a china tree, The Grass Harp manages to convey all the pleasures and responsibilities of freedom. But most of all it teaches us about the sacredness of love, "that love is a chain of love, as nature is a chain of life." This volume also includes Capote's A Tree of Night and Other Stories, which the Washington Post called "unobtrusively beautiful . . . a superlative book."… (more)
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» See also 38 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
Weird and weirder: Capote's early stories delve into small town America. The Grass Harp was published in 1951, but the other stories included in this edition are from the late 1940's. Strange characters, oddball events was it really like this? Is it still like this in America? or is this more typical of Capote, there is no hint of modernity these stories could have taken place 40 years earlier. Anachronistic perhaps because of the character profiles that Capote presents to his readers. Elderly ladies, young girls, pre teens people the stories, dysfunctional characters who rarely lift their heads from their own private worlds, but when they are forced to do so they present a challenge that must be snuffed out. The Americans in these small town stories seem to live with a certain amount of oddball behaviour: it is part of the fabric of their lives, but when weird gets weirder people get hurt.

The Grass Harp is of novella length taking up nearly half of this publication and is the best and most developed of this collection. It is narrated by Colin a young teenager small for his age a runt who when his mother dies is sent away to live with the Talbo sisters, who are well into their sixties. Verena is a business woman and runs the household; Dolly wears a veil outside the house; she ventures out once a week with her friend/servant/companion Catherine Creek a coloured woman. They collect herbs, bark and grasses to make a potion that they sell as a cure for dropsy, strictly by mail order. Dolly and Catherine live apart from Verena in their own part of the house and Colin becomes their new friend confessing that he is in love with Dolly. The event which fractures this strange household is when Verena seeing a business opportunity attempts to take over the selling of the Dropsy cure. Dolly, Catherine and Colin run away to an abandoned tree house in the woods, where they make their last stand against the forces of law and order. A young roustabout Riley Henderson and a 70 year old judge join the unlikely trio as they defend themselves against the extreme redneckery of the sheriff and his posse. There is hardly room enough in the old tree house.

Capote treats his oddball characters with sympathy in most of his stories, they are tolerated by their community and it is only when their actions challenge others that they run into problems. His characters are not quite in the same realm as Todd Brownings film "Freaks" (1932) but some come pretty close for example in Tree of Night a young woman meets a couple on a train and the man appears to be suffering from some sort of somnambulism. The woman reveals they have a stage act entitled Lazarus where the man is buried alive. Miriam is another typical story a precocious young teen haunts the flat of a lonely 60 year old woman, taking over her life.
In another story Miss Bobbit is a precocious ten year old who moves into a small town and dominated the local people. What sets these stories apart from other weird tales collections that were popular in the 1950's is the quality of the writing and Capote's affinity with his characters. Although the Grass Harp stands head and shoulders above some of the other shorter stories Capote does not fail to provide an atmosphere of strangeness in nearly all of them. Some readers may be offended by Capote's references to black people, but one has to remember that these tales were set in 1950's small town America. Not an essential collection but worth it for the Grass Harp and so 3.5 stars. ( )
3 vote baswood | Jun 21, 2020 |
delicious ( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
I am still mystified by Capote's talent. His early novels and stories share a great deal with each other, diminishing their impact, but the ingenuity and wit of the works still shine through.

Colin Fenwick was sent to live with his aunts after the deaths of his parents. Aunt Verena is a shrewd businesswoman who holds the town in a tight financial grip. Her sister Dolly is gentle and looks after the needs of the house, preparing a dropsy cure for sale on the side. Dolly's closest friend is Catherine, a black woman who defends the meek Dolly and claims Native American descent.

The dropsy cure becomes popular enough to be bringing in real money and suddenly Verena wants to interfere. After a clash between the sisters Dolly, Catherine and Colin decide to move out of the house and into a tree-house on the outskirts of town. Verena attempts to use her influence to make them return home, and the rest of the plot happens.

But plot is secondary with Capote, especially in these early works. His language, his curious sympathy with older women and the young boys who hang out in their kitchens, and the humorous and somehow completely believable aura that surrounds the daily life of his story's inhabitants.

'The Grass Harp' has Capote's first story collection, 'A Tree of Night and Other Stories' attached. These stories are more unsettling than funny and owe a great debt to the Freud fascination of the mid-20th century. Only two, "Children on Their Birthdays" and "Shut a Final Door" enter firm, laugh-out-loud, ground. And that is taking into account my significant appreciation for dark humor. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
I was in a play based on The Grass Harp -- actually, a musical--in 1980. One of my very few acting experiences. I think it was at Theatre for the Open Eye. I enjoyed it very much. I think I played Burma-Shave. I was surprised Capote could be so sweet. ( )
  deckla | Apr 5, 2016 |
This is a semi-autobiographical story by Truman Capote. His writing is, as always, superb. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 14, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Truman Capoteprimary authorall editionscalculated
Adsuar Ortega, JoaquínTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baulenas, Lluís-AntonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coindreau, Maurice-EdgarTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Helmond, Joop vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kirschner, HalinaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Krückels, Birgitsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pennanen, EilaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Podszus, FriedrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roshani, AnuschkaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Seidel, AnnemarieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Miss Sook Faulk. In memory of affections deep and true
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¿Cuándo oí hablar por primera verz del arpa de hierba?
Chapter One: When was it that first I heard of the grass harp?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Set on the outskirts of a small Southern town, The Grass Harp tells the story of three endearing misfits--an orphaned boy and two whimsical old ladies--who one day take up residence in a tree house. As they pass sweet yet hazardous hours in a china tree, The Grass Harp manages to convey all the pleasures and responsibilities of freedom. But most of all it teaches us about the sacredness of love, "that love is a chain of love, as nature is a chain of life." This volume also includes Capote's A Tree of Night and Other Stories, which the Washington Post called "unobtrusively beautiful . . . a superlative book."

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