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Other Voices, Other Rooms
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71 of 73 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon August 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
Truman Capote's novel "Other Voices, Other Rooms" opens with the main character, 13-year old Joel Harrison Knox, traveling to the home of his long-estranged father. As the book progresses, Joel becomes more intimately involved with the people of his father's household and of the larger community; there is a stress on oral history as Joel learns their stories. Overall, plot struck me as secondary to character revelation.
The people of Joel's new world are colorful, often pathetic, and sometimes grotesque; at times it really feels like Capote is putting on a human freak show for the thrill-seeking reader. He leads us through a world of decaying old buildings and broken spirits. But Capote always respects the essential humanity of his troubled characters.
There is a pronounced theme of alternative sexuality and/or gender identity throughout the book. Capote establishes this theme early on in his description of the main character. Joel is described as not looking like a "'real' boy": "He was too pretty, too delicate and fair-skinned." "Other Voices" thus has a lot to offer readers with an interest in gender issues as they have been explored in American literature. Capote also does an interesting job of portraying a mixed-race household where the African-American servants are as vividly drawn as the Caucasian family members.
Throughout the book there is some richly descriptive language, as well as intriguing representations of American vernacular English. Although at times "Other Voices" seems more an exercise in style than a fully satisfying narrative, it is for me quite a remarkable coming-of-age story.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
Published in January 1948 and Capote's second novel (but the first to reach print), this still engaging work was a sensation and best seller that year and has been in print ever since. Like Capote himself, it's one of a kind. A misfit young boy, Joel Knox, the product of a broken home (as was Capote), travels from New Orleans to the backwater town of Noon City, Mississippi in search of his unknown father. After twelve years of separation, his father has supposedly written to Joel's loving aunt in New Orleans and wants Joel back. But Joel, longing for his father's love, finds himself in the decaying hothouse home of his stepmother, Miss Amy, and his clever and perverse cousin Randolph, their black "maid" Zoo, and Zoo's ancient father Jesus Fever. Joel's father is in the house too, but not in the form he anticipated. Two local girls, Florabel and the wild tomboy Idabel, round out the players and are Joel's allies in a threatening world of perversity, mental instability, and sexual ambiguity. Even though he was just 23 when he finished this work, Capote displays tremendous inventiveness, narrative talent, and over-the-top imagery. A coming-of-age story, this work gushes southern atmosphere and contains, in Capote's own words, "a certain anguished, pleading intensity like the message stuffed in a bottle and thrown into the sea." It also is semi-autobiographical, "an attempt to exorcise demons," although Capote claimed many years later that he was unconscious of this when he wrote it. On another level, this work is also about the elusive search for the father, and the discovery that one is all alone, seeking to feel that "everything is going to be all right." As a post-war novel, "Other Voices, Other Rooms" found an audience longing for the same thing, seeking the safety of a benevolent father in a perverse world, and wanting to grow up and find itself.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 1998
Format: Paperback
This haunting first novel of Truman Capote is a brilliant work. It is a story of youth alienation and coming of age that could be the male companion piece to Carson McCuller's "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter." The story is told in a beautifully lyric style. It follows young Joel after his mother has died when he is sent to live with his father that he has never known. Capote paints a vivid picture of the eccentric family of which Joel finds himself a part. Joel desperately tries to find his way in a world that makes little sense. Capote is a master at making depravity beautiful and haunting without losing the sense of corruption or sugar coating the sadness. He delivers a novel that will forever live with the reader as a voice in the rooms of the soul. It is an exquisitely sad voice but not one that should ever be silenced.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
I don't profess to know exactly what constitutes the literary genre called Southern Gothic, but Truman Capote's "Other Voices, Other Rooms," an ominous and vaguely creepy tale set in the rural deep South of the 1930s, seems to point in its general direction. The author paints a broad canvas of easily identifiable motifs: swamps simmering in the humidity, snakes slithering through decaying plantations and abandoned hotels from a bygone era, overgrown weeds in neglected gardens, haunted ponds, voodoo charms, carnival freaks, garishly decorated interiors, loudly ticking parlor clocks, brain-damaged invalids confined to stuffy bedrooms. The mood is so perfectly established that the skeletons in the closet could be literal rather than figurative.

Joel Harrison Knox, a thirteen-year-old boy from New Orleans, is summoned by a letter--written in a suspiciously childish hand--to live with his father Edward Sansom, whom he hasn't seen since birth, and stepmother Amy Skully at her ancestral home called Skully's Landing, which turns out to be a dismal dwelling, a dilapidated antebellum mansion with no indoor plumbing or electricity. The residents, all of whom constantly evade Joel's questions about his absent father's whereabouts, are equally disturbing: Amy, alternately zombie-like and incoherently cranky, seems to be suffering from some form of schizophrenia; her cousin Randolph converses in the theatrically enigmatic manner of a demented circus ringmaster with something sinister up his sleeve; and a fervent black maidservant called Zoo brandishes an awful scar encircling her neck. In addition to all this grotesquerie, one day Joel sees a mysterious white-haired old lady in one of the upper-story windows--a prisoner, or just an apparition?

Like harmless monsters, these people are more benign than they appear, which is not to say they aren't hiding dark secrets. As Capote embellishes his narrative, the sense of foreboding in the beginning of the novel gradually transforms itself into a psychologically complex tapestry, a surreal coming-of-age story. Joel experiences something approaching a first love when he encounters a brutish tomboy named Idabel and her much more feminine twin sister Florabel; the choice he makes between the two may indicate the direction of his developing sexuality. An impressive debut for an author as young as Capote, "Other Voices, Other Rooms" eschews Faulkneresque experimentalism in favor of grandiose lyricism in its bizarre romance about a boy confronting ghosts from the past while struggling against the demons in the present that will shape his life.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
Capote's first novel written at the age of 23 showed his genius from the start. The beguiling story of a youth who comes to live with family long forgotten; he is initiated into this house of confusing characters and ghosts that haunt the past as well as the present.
Capote's talent lies in his ability to make you feel the warm, muggy southern breeze upon your throat as he wraps it around your very body. He writes of his south like a man possessed and enthralled with the life that abides there. At times the story tends to wander and for that I would give it a 3.5 but for all intents and purposes it is entirely unforgettable. Kelsana 7/24/01
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29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
Truman Capote's "Other Voices, Other Rooms" tells the story of a young New Orleans man sent to live with his mysterious father in rural Alabama. Joel Knox is a tender, slight boy who is eager to make a good impression on the dad he has never known. When he gets to the "Landing," a falling apart plantation, nothing is as it seems or as he had imagined it. His father is nowhere to be seen, and there are ghosts and other devices of his imagination that scare young Joel.
Gradually Joel takes a lesson about life from this place. His youthful notions are replaced by an awareness of coming to terms with the more complex vagaries of real life. He learns to accept things for what they are instead of waiting for them to live up to his dreams.
In the prologue of the 20th anniversary edition, Capote says that when he wrote this book he didn't believe that it came from autobiographical inspiration. With hindsight, he calls his statement laughable and arrogant. This seems like an honest realization, because the book seems like a logical extension of the imagination of someone like Capote. He wrote this book when he was only 24, and in his later years his life did take on somewhat of a fantastic perspective.
I really enjoyed In Cold Blood, his greatest nonfiction. This book wanders. I read that it was similiar to "The Heart is A Lonely Hunter," which is true in that it concerns a collection of lonely sad souls. But it lacks the character development of McCuller's book. It never gets as deep as I had hoped. At best, its valuable as a window into the pysche of the author.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 1998
Format: Paperback
Never having read a Capote novel or short story before this novel was probably the best way to go. The premise was simple enough: a boy whose beloved mother has died, sets out to live with his estranged father in a rural southern town. The story, however, is not that...ordinary. The mysterious father does not immediately appear, and the young boy is left virtually alone with a mentally imbalanced extended family headed by an aging artist. Capote introduces a Carson McCullers-esque tomboy, a witch doctor, a circus sideshow, and you begin to understand that this novel is about many stories--not just Joel's story. Capote never lets you imagine for a moment that his novel will turn into one of those "feel good" coming of age stories in which, despite setbacks and loopy family arrangements, the young hero or heroine finally "makes it." Our hero moves on in the best way that he can, which is all anybody really can do. I appreciate Capote's sense of reality.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 1996
Format: Paperback
This poetic coming of age novel quickly whisks you into a world of whispers, half truths,and superstitions, where ghosts and the living share equal space. Capote is a master of imagery and symbolism. I cannot think of a more powerful image than Jesus Sunshine's mule struggling from the enormous crystal chandelier, swinging silently like a pendulum, deep in the woods of this immense, etherial hotel - all slowly sinking into the swampy floor of the lake. Time stands still in this book, and you struggle along with the main character to make your way out of the deep Southern mist that obscures midgets from little girls, men from women, and offers you the many sides of truth. The reader will find himself shaking his head, as if waking from sleep, trying to cast off the heady spell Capote has cast. Hauntingly sad and exquisitely beautiful all at once
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 25, 2009
Format: Paperback
In reading this book, I often found myself re-reading passages. I did this not because of poor writing, but because I wanted to make sure I was interpreting the bizarre themes of Capote correctly. It is easy to understand why "Other Voices, Other Rooms" caused such a stir in its time.

In a semi-autobiographical work of fiction, Capote blurs the lines of reality in this novel. The central character Joel Harrison Knox is sent to live with his father after his mother passes away. Yet his father is a mystery as the people in town do not speak of him and Joel is not allowed to see him. Instead, interactions are made with an interesting cast of characters based in the south. His cold step mother seems only unique in her apparent obsession with killing birds. The suggestions about Randolph, though vague, are amusing yet shocking when one reads between the lines. Idabel, a paradox of a peer, challenges Joel's character and logic at times. These three characters are the devices Capote uses to demonstrate Joel's steps toward maturity or manhood.

More than Capote's other "finished" works, this novels comes off as being raw. While the writing itself demonstrates significant talent, it is the shock value that initially made this book noteworthy. The plot is erratic.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
In OTHER VOICE OTHER ROOMS 13 year-old Joel moves into a decaying backwoods southern mansion to reunite with his father...and finds only mystery. This psychological/gothic tale makes for a supremely atmospheric and compelling read. Reality is consistently filtered through veils of memory, family and personal history, sexual secrecy, legend, lore and more. The result is a reality that is fleeting and no more tangible than moonlight. OTHER VOICES OTHER ROOMS is also a great example of Capote's love of a tale within a tale and emphasizes his southern storyteller genius. A huge gay "subtext"! Creepy scenes, surreal characters, ghoulish ambience. Riveting. A perfect late night read.
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