February 19, 2004

A House on the Heights
Truman Capote

Old Songs -- Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's features one of the all-time best opening lines: "I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods." The line's sweet, sentimental musicality serves as an overture for the light opera that follows. F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby opens with a stunning composition: "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. 'Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.'" Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea offers a not-nearly-as-simple-as-it-seems symphony: "He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish." Capote's old essay, A House on the Heights, is recently re-published and is a much more modest melody. These brief words -- gentle ruminations and genial reflections for a long-gone general interest magazine -- have lesser ambitions. But how pleasant it is to once again hear a romantic ballad from the Cole Porter of American fiction.


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