Having always meant to read more Truman Capote, I decided to join the summer readathon hosted by The Literary Sisters and These little words. I bought the book, A Capote Reader – though I was slightly disappointed that the cover of my edition wasn’t that pictured on the Waterstone’s website – the picture I am stubbornly using to make myself feel better – and I was all set. I have decided to read the entire book – not just the pieces for the readathon, but as it’s over 700 pages of fairly small print and contains a variety of pieces, I am going to review it in sections. Therefore I will be having a truly Truman Capote summer –as I don’t expect to get through all of it before the end of August if I am dipping in and out of it.
July’s readathon pieces are:
Novella – The Grass Harp
Short stories – ‘Miriam’, ‘My Side of the Matter’, ‘A Tree of Night’, ‘Jug of Silver’, ‘The Headless Hawk’, ‘Shut a Final Door’
I will be reading The Grass Harp in the next week or so. I started with the first six of the short stories and thoroughly enjoyed them.
‘Miriam’ was one of Capote’s first published short stories in 1945; it won him the O. Henry Award in the category Best First-Published Story. ‘Miriam’ has a dreamlike quality about it, taking as its central theme a psychological double personality. Lonely 61 year old widow Miriam goes to a movie one snowy evening and meets a young girl, also called Miriam. When the girl turns up at Miriam’s apartment it quickly becomes apparent that things are not as they first appeared.
‘My Side of the matter’ – concerns a desperately young married couple, narrated by the young husband, his being the side of the matter in question. This is the story of what happens when his young wife takes him to meet her two very odd and combative aunts. These characters are dysfunctional and immature – a trait they share with other characters in these first six stories of A Capote Reader.
‘A Tree of Night’ – was probably my favourite of the six, deliciously chilling it tells the story of a young woman travelling back to college aboard a train, forced into company with two deeply sinister people, isolated in a compartment with them she seems incapable of helping herself.
“And then, without warning, a strange thing happened: the man reached out and gently stroked Kay’s cheek. Despite the breathtaking delicacy of this movement, it was a bold gesture Kay was at first too startled to know what to make of it: her thoughts shot in three or four fantastic directions. He leaned forward till his queer eyes were very near her own; the reek of his perfume was sickening. The guitar was silent while they exchanged a searching gaze.”
(A Tree of Night – 1945)
A Jug of Silver – a drug store owner drums up business with a jug of silver – guess the amount and win the money – in the run up to Christmas. A strange young boy; Appleseed and his sister appear – with Appleseed determined to win the money – for days Appleseed comes to the shop to sit and gaze at the jar – before finally the day before the result is announced – taking his guess.
“He turned into a side street leading toward the East River; it was quiet here, hushed like Sunday: a sailor-stroller munching an Eskimo Pie, energetic twins skipping rope, an old velvet lady with gardenia-white hair lifting aside lace curtains and peering listlessly into rain-dark space – a city landscape in July”
(The Headless Hawk -1946)
Both ‘The headless hawk’ and ‘Shut a final door’ involve damaging and unsatisfactory relationships of varying kinds. In The Headless Hawk, a very young damaged girl meets Victor in the art gallery where he works. He is quite a lot older, she brings in a picture, and the two embark on a relationship. However the girl seems convinced that every man she encounters is the mysterious Mr Destronelli for whom she has a pathological hatred and fear. In ‘Shut a final door’ – Walter; a writer hides out in a hotel room, seemingly hiding from his former friends and lovers. A series of events leads Walter to be shunned by everyone he once knew.
I really loved the atmospheric nature of these stories, snowy New York streets, lonely apartments, train compartments, small town drug stores, hotel rooms, and the strange and damaged people who are found there. Capote’s themes are complex, his stories seem laden with imagery and I can’t help but think I may have missed things. Here are so many emotionally damaged, isolated people – existing within landscapes that mirror their insecurities in some way.