Most readers know Truman Capote as the author of Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood; or they remember his notorious social life and wild and witty public appearances. But he was also the author of superb short tales that were as elegant as they were heartfelt, as grotesque as they were compassionate. Now, on the occasion of what would have been his eightieth birthday, the Modern Library presents the first collection that includes all of Capote's short fiction-a volume that confirms his status as one of the masters of this form. Among the selections are "A Tree of Night," in which an innocent student, sitting on a train beside a slatternly woman and her deaf-mute companion, enters a seductive nightmare that brings back the deepest fears of childhood ... "House of Flowers," the inspiration for a celebrated Broadway musical, which tells of a superstitious prostitute who learns to love in a way no one else can ever understand ... the holiday perennial "A Christmas Memory," famously adapted into a superb made-for-TV movie ... and "The Bargain," Capote's melancholy, never-before-published 1950 story about a suburban housewife's shifting fortunes. From the gothic South to the chic East Coast, from rural children to aging urban sophisticates, all the unforgettable places and people of Capote's oeuvre are captured in this first-ever compendium. The Collected Stories of Truman Capote should restore its author to a place above mere celebrity, to the highest levels of American letters.
There is a similar sense of this happening in this collection. However, it is quickly evident that the range of quality is much more consistent – the beginning starts at a very high level and the ending has little drop-off. At the outset, it doesn’t take long before the skill and talent (assuredly two different things) becomes evident. With “Jug of Silver”, Capote begins to explore his Southern past and provides us an engrossing story of a small town, a contest to guess the number of coins, and the strange child who insists he knows the answer. The stories grow from there including my personal favorites “Miriam” about a lonely lady and the child that discovers her, “Preacher’s Legend” about an old black man who only thinks he is so old he wants to die, and “Master Misery” about a man who is buying dreams. And, I can’t forget “Children and Their Birthdays” which starts by telling you exactly how it will end but, by the time you get there, you are still shocked (and I must admit I almost laughed out loud.) The famous stories are here also – “A Diamond Guitar”, “House of Flowers”, and “A Christmas Memory” – and it is interesting to note that these are almost at the end of the collection. Because, while it is true the last couple of stories may not be the strongest, they are still good.
Which all speaks to the fact that the arc of stories for Capote is way too short. Yes, that means he jumped quickly to the heights of story-telling and there was little drop off, but how much more might there have been? Capote was an unusual man, and this collection exhibits the varying parts of his life (as told through fiction) that help build this strange little man. That he can span the gamut of those types speaks to how good he was.
I have read these over a long period of time, so only the last stories are memorable.
This was a great collection of stories, one of the best by a single author that I have read. Even the least impressive stories herein are better than what many authors can produce.
It goes without saying that a character with as quirky a personality as Truman Capote is going to write stories that do not conform to most people’s expectations. Every story is vibrant and full of characters as well developed as they are unusual. Many are what one would call a slice-of-life sketch and even the ones that lack much plot are intriguing to read as one gets an almost voyeuristic sense that they are snooping into someone else’s life. Other stories read like something out of Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock. Three stories that do an especially good job of showing of the wickedly twisted side of Capote are Miriam, A Tree of Night and Children on their Birthdays.
My favorites, though, were the stories that border on autobiographical. A Christmas Memory was particularly touching. I don’t consider myself unemotional but I never in a million years would expect to find myself wiping my eyes after finishing a story about fruitcakes. Like I said, he’s good. Two other stories dealing with the holidays, The Thanksgiving Visitor and One Christmas offer even more insight into the life of young Truman.
Bottom line: If I was to assign school grades to each story, one or two would be a high C, four would get Bs and the remaining stories would all get A’s or A plus. If you have never read Truman Capote, or know him only from In Cold Blood, you really should treat yourself and read these stories.
FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements:
• 5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
• 4 Stars – It could stand for a few tweaks here and there but it’s pretty good as it is.
• 3 Stars – A solid C grade. Some serious rewriting would be needed in order for this book to be considered good or memorable.
• 2 Stars – This book needs a lot of work. A good start would be to change the plot, the character development, the writing style and the ending.
• 1 Star - The only thing that would improve this book is a good bonfire.
This is a wonderful collection of stories. Meaningful and thought-provoking. Perfect for this time of year.
The Rest of It:
I really enjoy Capote’s writing. A book group friend of mine brought this for a book exchange one year, and it ended up in my lucky hands. I’ve been reading bits of it here and there for over two years now. It’s the type of book that you can pick up and put down and not really lose anything from it. Open to any page and you will be swept away. Some of the stories included are:
* A Tree of Night
* A Christmas Memory (my fave)
* The Thanksgiving Visitor
You can actually purchase A Christmas Memory on its own and it would make a wonderful gift for a loved one. It’s about the love shared between two friends and is largely autobiographical. It’s touching and sad but wonderful too. It’s a gentle reminder of what’s special about Christmas. It’s my favorite story. I love it.
If you aren’t sure what to get for that picky reader this year, pick up this collection. You can’t go wrong. There is something for everyone here.