REVIEW | Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

image via Goodreads

image via Goodreads

title: Breakfast at Tiffany’s [support an independent bookseller and buy at Strand]
by: Truman Capote
genre: short stories
pages: 157
published: 2000
source: my personal library

Gah, I love Truman Capote.  He has such incredible range!  Each story in this collection was so different, each one had legs enough to stand alone but also, despite their vastly different characters, settings and styles, each flowed into the next seamlessly.

Story the first: Breakfast at Tiffany’s    It’s always fascinating to me the way that Hollywood takes an amazing piece of fiction and turns it into something almost unrecognizable.  Now, I LOVE the Audrey Hepburn movie, but only when I consider it as an entirely separate entity from Capote’s piece.  Hepburn’s Holly Golightly presents a tough exterior, but can also come off as incredibly delicate, almost bird-like.  We root for her to settle down and give the damn cat a name.  Because that’s what Hollywood is all about.  But Capote’s Golightly has built a wall around her heart, so thick and so high that though the reader is left with a strong sense of her, it’s clear that a sense is anyone is ever going to get.  A bit more honest than so much celluloid.

And then there’s “Fred,” our narrator.  Who is gay.  Quite unlike the movie.  Personally, I know how, ahem, unconventional it would have been to portray him as such in the movie, but within the context of Capote’s novella, it was a really strong choice and feels wrong for him to be otherwise.

Capote is also a master of description.  The picture he paints of Rusty Trawler is HILARIOUS.  Comme ca:

“He was a middle-aged child that had never shed its baby fat, though some gifted tailor had almost succeeded in camouflaging his plump and spankable bottom.  There wasn’t a suspicion of bone in his body; his face, a zero filled with pretty miniature features, had an unused, a virginal quality: it was as if he’d been born, then expanded, his skin remaining unlined as a blown-up balloon, and his mouth, though ready for squalls and tantrums, a spoiled sweet puckering.  But it was not appearance that singled him out: preserved infants aren’t all that rare.  It was, rather, his conduct; for he was behaving as though the party were his: like an energetic octopus, he was shaking martinis, making introductions, manipulating the gramophone.”

Love LOVE LOVE.  One of my all-time favorite novellas.

I think it's safe to assume this was NOT what Capote was thinking...

I think it’s safe to assume this was NOT what Capote was thinking…

Story the Second:  House of Flowers    From Rio de Janeiro, Capote takes us to Port-au-Prince for a peek into the life of a lady-of-the-night, Ottilie, as she discovers love for the first time with Royal, who lives in the hills with his grandmother, Old Bonaparte.

My favorite passage:

“When her friends spoke of love, of men they had loved, Ottilie became sulky:  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 in your heart, as though tiny fish are swimming in your veins. Ottilie shook her head; if Rosita was telling the truth, then she had never been in love, for she had never felt that way about any of the men who came to the house.

This so troubled her that at last she went to see a Houngan who lived in the hills above town…Speaking to through the gods, the Houngan gave her this message:  You must catch a wild bee, he said, and hold it in your closed hand…if the bee does not sting, then you will know you have found love.”

I love how Capote carries this image through the piece. Such a tight, magical story.


Story the Third:  A Diamond Guitar   The final image of House of Flowers is a woman tied to a tree, so it’s fitting the next of Capote’s stories is set in a prison.  A Diamond Guitar follows the relationship that develops between a prisoner known as Mr. Schaeffer and a new, young inmate called Tico Feo as they plot their escape.  A really strong piece.  Such a stylistic departure from the previous two pieces, but fits nicely in the progression (superb editorial decision!).

Story the Fourth:  A Christmas Memory  Just as A Diamond Guitar ends by the light of the fire of the pot-bellied stove, so begins A Christmas Memory, though under a very different set of circumstances.  Not my favorite of the bunch, but still quite good.  It revolves around the making of fruitcakes (riveting stuff) by a young boy and his elderly distant cousin and best friend.  Incredibly touching portrait of friendship which also touches on loss, I’ve read that this story is largely autobiographical.  Definitely a different tone than the other three stories, but an absolutely pitch-perfect inclusion nonetheless.

Rubric rating:   9.  Capote ranks high on my list of most supremely talented writers of all time.  This spring, I plan on tackling Answered Prayers, Capote’s last unfinished novel.


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