The Complete Stories of Truman Capote
I think I answered my questions about Truman Capote with this whirlwind look at most of his writing. I read In Cold Blood a few years back and I like it a lot. I think it’s really strong, but I think more than anything, it’s too rich a backstory, too big of a book, and the movie is so good that I couldn’t help but love it.
I liked a lot of these stories in this collection. Some of them were really really good, but many of them were either kind of meh or un-impactful. As in, I walked away having had no impression left on me.
So I won’t get into the ones that left no impression, because why. My favorite story in the whole bunch and the one that I think I will copy out and teach to students at some point this year is “Miriam.” It’s one of his more famous one, but it’s about a creepy girl who shows up at her neighbor’s house one evening and sort of demands a treat. Then she keeps showing up and keeps showing up. It’s good because it exposes the vulnerability of domestic life to outside threats. It’s a lot like a few Shirley Jackson stories as well as a few Eudora Welty stories, and that makes sense since they were all writing about the same time.
The other prominent set of stories in the collection are his autobiographical stories about growing up in the small town in Alabama, where he often lived with older “relatives.” These stories are mostly holiday memories. My overall impression is that despite what I might have guessed, Capote is a lot more sentimental than I would have otherwise suspected.
The issue with this collection in general is that he’s just so young for the first half. And it’s apparent.
The Grass Harp
Similar to the autobiographical stories mentioned in the previous review, this short novel is about an orphan growing up with two older lady caretakers. With a similar kind of sentimentality as those stories, this one deals with the ins and outs of one summer where the three of them run away to the middle of the woods to live in a treehouse and the various implications and fallout of this choice.
Did you ever want to run away when you were a kid? Especially if you could find a fort to live in? When I was younger, we found this weird dug out pit (probably created by erosion) and we covered it with logs and brush and created “rooms” and lived in it. I walked across the logs and one snapped and I fell into the pit and everyone made of me because I was a fat kid who broke a log. Cool. But there’s something so terribly fetching about being able to set aside whatever stress and responsibly and trauma you have as a kid and just, I don’t know, recreate the world in your own image in the woods.
This book hits at all that but has the weird Southern gothic flare to it. So it traces similar lines as Huckleberry Finn or The Kings of Summer or Mud or The Barestain Bears and No Girls Allowed, but there’s two old ladies in the woods with you. So maybe more like The Summer Book. This is a very summer novel.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Finally, I end with Breakfast at Tiffany’s. My first question was: is this book going to be as racist as the movie? And the answer is no, but it’s going to try a little. But, unexpectedly, it will be offensive toward LGBTQ community.
Mostly, the differences between the movie and the book aside from what they did to poor Mr. Yunioshi, is to sharpen the edges around everyone. What I mean is that there is a lot more drinking, smoking, partying, and sex than the movie, and rather than being a kind of whimsical tale, it’s darker.
Also everyone is much younger in the written version.
That leads me to some thoughts about age. There’s the constant millennial lamentations on how we let young adulthood/early adulthood last forever, with people living at home forever and staying on their parents’ insurance. Etc etc etc. But we don’t have seem to have a clear understanding of what age is and what is appropriate based on someone’s age. So we know that “people have to grow up quick” or “when you’re 18 you’re out the door” and we place a high amount accountability and responsibility on someone when they turn the very arbitrary age of 18.
This book plays in those margins. Holly in the book is 18, and she got married when she was 14. That’s not exactly in the movie. So when she’s called back home, the whole world around her truth falls a lot more quickly and heavily. It’s a weird moment, but sort of gets at the point of what do we expect of people and when.