Hilltop: A Literary Paper. Volume 1 Number 1
"Other Voices Other Rooms"
"Other Voices Other Rooms"
"If she be made of white and red,
Her faults will ne'er be known,
For blushing cheeks by faults are bred,
And fears by pale white shown."
So sings Moth in Shakespeare's "Love's Labour's Lost," and from the American notices of this first novel of a twenty-three year old, the imaginative brilliance of the descriptions of the decaying Southern homestead has swamped their critical faculties and they have hailed "Love's Labour's Lost" as "Antony and Cleopatra." Titillated by the general bedazzlement and by a penetration and beauty unusual in a first novel and in modern American literature generally, they have forgotten that "Other Voices Other Rooms" is not a prose poem but a novel, and is quite likely to have that embarassing question flung at it, "What's it all about ?"
It is (so the jacket tells me) the story of a young boy Joel, who leaves what has been his home, to go south to his father. In this house, surely falling to pieces with dry rot, live with his invalid father, several other characters whom the blight has affected in different ways.
Stagnant streams produce the richest growth and the whole household is a bywater of exotic life. Joel grows up in the house and in the country around, and fortunately for him, finds a companion in an exuberant, although at times viciously uncouth, young tomboy. The strangeness of his physical life is more than matched by the confusion of his thoughts. Very soon in the novel we leave human beings behind to enter a world of words. We dwell not only in a strange old house, but also in an in-between world where suggestion and subtlety drift like fingers of seaweed in a gentle swell. Having lost their support, they go where they will.
The book will delight the Marxists. As Exhibit A it is an almost perfect example of Western Civilisation's hopeless decadence. It has, to quote their own words, "degrees of analytic intelligence and sensitiveness, which are almost without comparison," and as a novel of adolescence it shows a peculiar appreciation of the complexity of people, but this and other good qualities are swamped by the richness and lack of clarity. The sharpness of the child's impression is blurred by the memory of the young man. Nothing is resolved or definitely stated. And too much implication has produced not vividness, but a surfeit of those very qualities which should stimulate the reader's imagination to fill in, itself, the storyteller's gaps. But perhaps Mr. Capote wishes it that way. If he does, then he will be quite unique, and no doubt his books will more and more resemble fabulous operas. And to all his critics he is, I suppose, entitled to say:
"The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo.
You, that way: we, this way."
—J. M. Thomson.