Our Big Summer Readathon: Short Stories (1) by Truman Capote *****

Our Big Summer Readathon, co-hosted here at The Literary Sisters and at theselittlewords, kicks off with six of Truman Capote’s stunning short stories: ‘Miriam’, ‘My Side of the Matter’, ‘A Tree of Night’, ‘Jug of Silver’, ‘The Headless Hawk’ and ‘Shut a Final Door’.  I have decided that the best way to approach such a review is to write a little about each tale – the general details, and my thoughts upon each as a whole.

1. ‘Miriam’ (1945)
‘Miriam’ focuses upon Mrs H.T. Miller a widow, who is living alone ‘in a pleasant apartment (two rooms with kitchenette, in a remodeled brownstone near the East River’.  Mrs Miller is sixty one years old, with ‘plain and inconspicuous features’, seemingly invisible to most of those around her.  One snowy evening, which has been beautifully depicted by Capote – ‘In the falling quiet there was no sky or earth, only snow lifting in the wind, frosting the window glass, chilling the rooms, deadening and hushing the city’ – Mrs Miller decides to go along to a movie theatre.  Here, she meets an odd young girl with long ‘silvery-white’ hair.  It turns out that Mrs Miller and the girl share a first name – Miriam.  A strange relationship ensues between the two.

Capote has filled ‘Miriam’ with such unusual and surprising behaviour on the parts of both protagonists, and quite an unsettling story is built in consequence.  ‘Miriam’ has been written in such a way that it is almost impossible to know where its plot is likely to go.

2. ‘My Side of the Matter’ (1945)
‘My Side of the Matter’ is a testimony of sorts, a one-sided argument as to what happened in an altercation between the principal character and two others.  The narrator is adamant that, ‘on Sunday, August 12, this year of our Lord, Eunice tried to kill me with her papa’s Civil War sword and Olivia-Ann cut up all over the place with a fourteen-inch hog knife’.

In ‘My Side of the Matter’, Capote has crafted such an interesting narrative voice, and an incredibly tight story.  The characters and sense of place, as well as the descriptions of Alabama, are so very strong, and the whole is immensely thought-provoking.

3. ‘A Tree of Night’ (1945)
In ‘A Tree of Night’, a young, neat and rather amused young woman named Kay boards a train after attending her uncle’s funeral.  The only unoccupied seat is opposite a couple, and the woman of this couple soon takes a shine to her, much to Kay’s disdain.

Throughout, Capote’s descriptions shine: ‘Now icicles hung along the station-house eaves like some crystal monster’s vicious teeth’.  ‘A Tree of Night’ is fascinating in terms of the relationships which Capote builds, and how quickly they alter.  The tone of the tale makes the whole rather oppressive at times, and the foreboding is built up brilliantly.

4. ‘Jug of Silver’ (1945)
A young boy who works in his uncle’s drugstore sees a fall in business when a brand new drugstore, owned by the ‘villain’ Rufus McPherson, is opened across the street.  His uncle soon comes up with quite a clever plan to lure his business back in – filling a jug with coins and getting each customer – provided they have spent a certain amount beforehand, mind – to guess how much it holds.

The first person perspective in ‘Jug of Silver’ works marvellously alongside the unfolding story, and the protagonist is really quite endearing.  Such interesting and realistic characters people the tale, and it intrigues right until the very last word.

5. ‘The Headless Hawk’ (1946)
Our male protagonist is a man named Vincent, who spots a girl wearing a green raincoat in New York.  Intrigued, and swept away by her, he starts to follow her – an act which frightens her at first, and causes her to bolt into a nearby antique shop.  The interesting twist comes when she tracks Vincent down in the city and wants to get to know him.

Capote is so very perceptive of his creations, and notices such touching and unusual details about them – for example, an elderly lady with ‘gardenia-colored hair’ and a ‘fairy colored’ boy.  Psychologically, this story is fascinating, and Capote’s skill for perfectly capturing scenes and movement is at its best here.  The magical realism in the tale is so very sensory and intentive, and I have never read anything quite like it before.

6. ‘Shut a Final Door’ (1947)
‘Shut a Final Door’ is about one man and an episode in his life which does not quite turn out as he expected it would: ‘But why he [Walter] was here in this stifling hotel in this faraway town he could not say’.

From the building of the scenes to the growth of the protagonist, this is a sublimely crafted tale.  Capote is a master at getting his readers to stand on the side of a particular character, and then ripping everything away so that an opinion one has already formed alters completely.

 

These first six tales are true perfection; each is wonderfully built and so well tied together.  The characters who people each story, whether at the forefront or on the sidelines, are so vivid and memorable, and Capote’s writing is unfailingly beautiful.

Stay tuned for further Capote reviews over the next month!

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6 thoughts on “Our Big Summer Readathon: Short Stories (1) by Truman Capote *****

  1. I read and reviewed these stories a couple of weeks ago I so enjoyed them. Last week I read The Grass Harp and so loved it. Thank you for prompting me to read more Capote I am loving this readathon.

  2. Fantastic post Kirsty. I’m about to post mine in a mo! Also, I hate to say it, but I think when Capote writes ‘fairy colored boy’ he means a gay black man. He uses ‘colored’ as it was used in 1947 throughout the story, and as I’m sure you know he peppers his stories with references to homosexuality, whether in a positive or negative way.

    But still, great post! 🙂

    • I thought that when I read it, but wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Since watching ‘Capote’ whilst I was on holiday, I really do think he had a lot of compassion for humanity for the mostpart, and I like the way in which he reflects upon this in his writing. Still, I suppose one must remember that he was very of his time. I shall take a look at your post shortly. 🙂

      • That’s true – there’s also the possibility that he’s writing from Vincent’s point of view. Even though we learn that Vincent has had affairs with men (which was very brave to write at the time), there may be some negativity in him towards homosexuality because of society’s attitude towards it. I love these kind of subtleties in Capote’s work.

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