Posts Tagged ‘Truman Capote’


Popping up here on Christmas Eve to wish you all a very happy, peaceful Christmas, however you might be spending it.

Time to tell you about a delightful little book I read last weekend, while I was hurtling about finishing Christmas shopping and meeting up with friends. A Christmas Memory is a slight little hardback that I bought last year, and somehow didn’t get around to reading. This Christmas keepsake volume from the Modern Library was published in 2007 though the three stories were first published in 1956, 1982 and 1967 respectively.

I have read quite a number of Truman Capote short stories, and so knowing what a good short story writer he was, I had looked forward to finally reading the three stories in this volume. I wasn’t disappointed, these will definitely be stories I return to, perfect for the time of year.

There always seems to be a heavily autobiographical element to Capote’s writing, perhaps it is the way he writes so nostalgically about his Alabama childhood. Certainly, these stories also appear to be heavily autobiographical. The three stories are linked by the character of Buddy, who lives with the Alabama relatives of his mother, and who has a particularly close relationship with an elderly cousin named Sook.

In A Christmas Memory, Buddy looks back upon a childhood Christmas in the company of his cousin, his special friend. The setting is Alabama in the 1930s, Buddy is just seven, his distant cousin is in her sixties, describing her with affection and the kind of matter of fact honesty peculiar to children.

“Her face is remarkable – not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-coloured and timid. ‘Oh my,’ she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, ‘it’s fruitcake weather!’
The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something. We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together – well, as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other’s best friend. She calls me Buddy in memory of a boy who was formally her best friend. The other Buddy died in the 1880s, when she was still a child. She is still a child.”

It is a story which celebrates a Southern country Christmas, the joy of friendship and giving. Finally, touching on, inevitably perhaps, the loss that comes with love.

One Christmas describes how Buddy – aged just six – is packed off alone to visit his father in New Orleans. Buddy is terrified to travel so far on his own, having to spend Christmas away from Sook his special friend. He steps off the bus expecting there to be snow in New Orleans – so far away from Alabama.

“I don’t know what scared me most, the thunder, the sizzling zigzags of lightning that followed it – or my father. That night, when I went to bed, it was still raining. I said my prayers and I prayed that I would soon be home with Sook to kiss me good-night.”

His father is a not a man much used to small children, and through the bemused eyes of his young son we see a hard drinking, cynic, a man quite able to provide lots of Christmas gifts – but who finds a relationship with his son more difficult.

In The Thanksgiving Visitor; Buddy and Sook are anticipating the annual Thanksgiving feast – where the family that Buddy lives with, are inundated with a whole host of far flung relatives who come for the big day every year. Despite his youth, Buddy has learned to hate – much to Sook’s disapproval. A local boy Old Henderson, a boy a few years older than Buddy, kept back in second grade due to his lack of educational prowess.

“Of course it wasn’t that I hated school; what I hated was Odd Henderson. The torments he contrived! For instance, he used to wait for me in the shadows under a water oak that darkened an edge of the school grounds; in his hand he held a paper sack stuffed with prickly cockleburs collected on his way to school. There was no sense in trying to outrun him, for he was quick as a coiled snake; like a coiled snake; like a rattler, he struck, slammed me to the ground and, his slitty eyes gleeful, rubbed the burrs into my scalp. Usually a group of kids ganged around to titter, or pretend to; they didn’t really think it funny; but Odd made them nervous and ready to please.”

Buddy never imagines that Old Henderson might have other talents. Sook is determined to teach Buddy something about giving people a chance – and so – much to Buddy’s horror – invites Old Henderson to the family, Thanksgiving feast. The day is destined to be a memorable one.

This entire book could easily be read in a couple of hours, or less – I wasn’t able to read it in one sitting last Saturday – I was too busy – but it proved a lovely companion to a busy day of Christmas preparations. Tender, powerful and nostalgic Capote’s festive stories are a real treat.

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a capote readerMy 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.


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a capote readerHaving 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.


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A summer readathon

a capote readerThe other day while browsing my blog reader, I came across a rather lovely looking summer readathon. Now I know that with the number of books I have waiting for me, and the reading challenges I already have underway, this was something I needed like the proverbial hole in the head. However I was instantly taken with the idea. So there I was sipping my tea and messing around with my phone during a break at work and suddenly I had ordered the book I would need to get started. So it would appear I am in.

Bloggers the literary sisters and Those little words are jointly hosting a Truman Capote readathon, concentrating on some of his lesser known works and short stories. I read Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood – years ago and remember them with great fondness so I am looking forward to getting started. I think Truman Capote is one of those writers I had always planned to read more of, but hadn’t got round to. Now I have the perfect excuse. I have ordered A Capote Reader – quite expensive although I get a lot for my money, it contains short stories, two novellas and some travel writing. The final book for the readathon is a novel Summer Crossing which I have yet to buy – but no doubt I will.

Summer really does seem like a fantastic time to read a writer like Truman Capote, I’m already thinking I will have to re-read In Cold Blood – it’s such a long time since I read it yet I remember the opening of it quite clearly.

This is the schedule – whether I keep up with it exactly remains to be seen, but I will have a lot of reading time when I break up from school in two weeks – so I just might.

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’

Novella – Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Short stories – ‘Master Misery’, ‘Children on Their Birthdays’, ‘A Diamond Guitar’, ‘House of Flowers’, ‘Among the Paths to Eden’, ‘Mojave’
Novel – Summer Crossing

I hope some of you will think about joining in with this lovely summer readathon, as I think it’s going to be great. I am looking forward to my new book arriving.


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