My Truman Capote reading continues with six more short stories from A Capote Reader. The themes of these stories vary a little – but largely mirror those of the first six stories of this collection that I reviewed last month. His stories encompass emotional anxiety, small town misfits and sexual exploits, portraying sophisticated New York society and the concerns of small town children with equal astuteness. The writing is simply glorious.
Master Misery is dark little story, about dreaming, anxiety, and ultimately obsession. Sylvia sells her dream to the mysterious Mr Revercomb, he advertises in the newspaper that he buys up dreams. The Setting is a wintery New York, where Sylvia lives with her childhood friend and her husband. Upon her second visit to Mr Revercomb’s house Sylvia meets former clown Mr Oreilly. In time sleep becomes an obsession, Sylvia’s mental state becomes gradually more fragile, and she realises she wants her dreams back.
I loved Children on their birthdays: a story set in a small southern town, where two new arrivals are watched by a troupe of children from the verandah. Miss Bobbit; a precocious 10 yr old arrives in town with her silent mother. They take up residence in a boarding house across the street from the house of the story narrator – one of a number of children who become fascinated and slightly fixated on Miss Bobbit. Miss Bobbit refuses to go to school and surprises everyone with her choice of friend and talks of praying to both Jesus and the Devil. Capote rather gives the game away right at the start of this story, but in a sense that doesn’t matter. The depiction of this society of children is breath-takingly brilliant.
My other favourite of these six stories was A Diamond Guitar set on a prison farm, where Mr Schaeffer is one of the more important prisoners; he makes dolls and is fortunate in having a bunk near the stove. One day an eighteen year old Brazilian named Tico Feo arrives at the prison, with a glass diamond studded guitar. Tic and Schaeffer become friends, and Tico soon suggests an audacious plan that can’t but help but tantalise the imagination of this gentle aging prisoner. I loved the character of Mr Schaeffer, and it shows Capote’s absolute genius that in such a short story the reader becomes so completely swept up by a character like this.
“It could be said of Mr. Schaeffer that in his life he’s done only one really bad thing: he’d killed a man. The circumstances of that deed are unimportant, except to say that the man deserved to die and that for it Mr. Schaeffer was sentenced to ninety-nine years and a day. For a long while—for many years, in fact—he had not thought of how it was before he came to the farm. His memory of those times was like a house where no one lives and here the furniture has rotted away. But tonight it was as if lamps had been lighted through all the gloomy dead rooms. It had begun to happen when he saw Tico Feo coming through the dusk with his splendid guitar. Until that moment he had not been lonesome. Now, recognizing his loneliness, he felt alive. He had not wanted to be alive. To be alive was to remember brown rivers where the fish run, and sunlight on a lady’s hair.”
(From A Diamond Guitar -1950)
House of Flowers an odd little love story, with a hint of magic. Young Ottilie is a prostitute in Port au Prince, Haiti. Believing herself in love because a bee didn’t sting her when she held it in her hand, she marries Royal from the mountains, leaving the brothel and her friends behind her. At Royal’s house in the mountains she must contend with her new husband’s grandmother Old Bonaparte, who sets herself firmly against Ottilie. A surprising ending perhaps, showing that sometimes the people we think we love aren’t the ones we should, or maybe ould have had things been different.
“How do you feel if you’re in love? she asked. Ah, said Rosita with swooning eyes, you feel as though pepper has been sprinkled on your heart, as though tiny fish are swimming in your veins.”
(From House of Flowers – 1952)
In ‘Among the paths to Eden’ – a widower, who rather guiltily doesn’t much regret his wife’s passing buys a bunch of jonquils to take to his wife’s grave. In the cemetery he meets Miss O’Meaghan, a peculiar encounter, which is only fully (and bizarrely) explained as the story concludes.
Mojave: Capote’s 1975 story is about a society which seems to thrive on adultery– a woman; afraid of yet in love with her husband, conducting and later ending an affair with her therapist. Her husband tells her story of an encounter with an old blind man in the Mojave Desert years earlier. I can’t say I entirely “got” this one.
My Capote reading is not finished yet – I finished my re-read of Breakfast at Tiffanys this afternoon, and it too will be reviewed in due course, and I still have Capote’s posthumously published short novel Summer Crossing to read too.