Capote, Truman

Review: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s & other short stories” by Truman Capote

It was a warm evening, nearly summer, and she wore a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker. For all her chic thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanness, a rouge pink darkening in the cheeks … A pair of dark glasses blotted out her eyes. It was a face beyond childhood, yet this side of belonging to a woman.” – p. 17.

Truman Capote’s classic masterpiece is narrated by an unknown writer. The only name he is ever associated with is ‘Fred’ which Holly Golightly christens him with. Sprightly and energetic, ‘Fred’ recalls the days of his relationship with Holly while they were neighbours living in downtown New York. Holly’s eccentricities intrigued the lonely and quiet writer and, together, they strike up a heartwarming but mismatched friendship. Holly, a prostitute, although it is never explicitly stated, and gold digger remains ambiguous and mysterious despite her verbose and flighty nature. Hints of physical abuse, and later sexual abuse, in her childhood are also insinuated. Her materialistic and occasionally insensitive nature is contrasted against her close bond with her absent beloved brother who is serving in the army and is intellectually slow.

This short story is truly amazing. It’s been a long time since I’ve been blown away by such deft and brilliant writing. In only 100 pages, Capote creates such vivid characters, voices, images and worlds. The character of Holly. although perhaps intended to be unlikable, is so well drawn by Capote who is careful to counteract her hardness with soft touches here and there.

This is truly an amazing piece of work – my mouth is still gaping. Aspects of it remind me also somewhat of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

I have been putting off writing a review for this because I felt I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. I also came to the story as a complete novice since I’d never seen the movie either. All I knew about the tale was the black dress and pearls. Having seen the movie after reading the book, I can I much prefer the book although I did enjoy the movie.

The three other short stories in the same volume are also brilliant and really brings home Capote’s genius. Such slight stories in such varying environments they all capture the essence of the world it embodies. House of Flowers paints the life of a prostitute in the Caribbeans who leaves her position to marry. With a mix of mysticism and witchcraft weaved in, it is truly different from Tiffany’s. A Diamond Guitar depicts the life in an American prison farm with undertones of racism. Finally, A Christmas Memory is one of the most poignant and saddest stories I’ve read. It simply tells of the close bond relationship between a young boy and a very old woman.

Four such remarkable and different stories, all wonderfully told. The best $8 I’ve ever spent!