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American Literature Month: Flash Reviews from the Archives

A series of flash reviews of American Literature seems a fitting interlude to post amongst the extensive reviews of late.  These have all been posted on the blog over the last couple of years.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner ****
I adore the Deep South as a setting and am wondering why, after finishing this stunning novel, I’ve not read any of Faulkner’s work before.  I adored the differing perspectives throughout, and the way in which each and every one of them was so marvellously distinct.  The story is such an absorbing one, and I love the idea of it – a family waiting for and commenting upon the death of one of their members.  Faulkner’s differing prose techniques in use in As I Lay Dying are wonderful, and show that as a writer, he is incredibly skilled.  Terribly sad on the whole and very cleverly constructed.

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Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann ***
I have read some absolutely marvellous reviews of this novel, and couldn’t wait to begin it.  The prologue of Let The Great World Spin is visually stunning and well thought out.  If only the rest of the book had been the same!  I enjoyed the author’s writing on the whole – some of his descriptions, for example, are sumptuous – but my stumbling block came with the characters.  They were interesting enough on the whole, but they were all so broken, often by alcohol and drugs.  Because of this, no distinct characters stood out for me, and I found it difficult to empathise with any of them in consequence.  An interesting novel, but a little disappointing by all accounts.

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Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan ****
Summer days warrant these witty, fun reads for me.  The books which Cohn and Levithan write are not your usual teen fare.  Rather than being fluffy, simply written and overly predictable (sorry, Sara Dessen, but I’m looking at you), their tales are smart, well constructed, intelligent in their prose and rather unique in terms of the cast of characters they create.  Yes, I suppose that there was an element of predictability here with regard to the ending, but the entire story was so well wrought that it really didn’t matter.  The characters are all marvellous, with perhaps the exclusion of Naomi, whom I found to be an incredibly difficult protagonist to get along with.  I loved the way in which Cohn and Levithan tackled serious issues – the rocky road of teen friendships, homosexuality, trying desperately to conform with peers, and so on.  Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List is a great book, and one which I struggled to put down.

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Children on Their Birthdays by Truman Capote *****
As with the delightful Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I got straight into these stories from the outset. I love the stunning sense of place which Capote never fails to create, and his characters are both marvellously and deftly constructed. His writing is just perfect. The tales in Children on Their Birthdays are short, but boy, are they powerful and thought provoking.

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A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams *****
Williams portrays relationships, even the most complicated, in a masterful manner. I love the way in which he writes. His characterisation is second to none, and he gives one so much to admire in each scene, each act. The characters were all fundamentally troubled souls, each imperfect in his or her own way, but they worked so well as a cast, and Blanche Du Bois is eternally endearing. Williams’ dialogue is pitch perfect. An absolutely marvellous, perceptive, strong and unforgettable play, and one which I’m now longing to see performed.

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Short Story Series: Part Two

I adore reading short stories, and don’t see many reviews of collections on blogs in comparison to novels and the like.  I thought that I would make a weekly series to showcase short stories, and point interested readers in the direction of some of my favourite collections.  Rather than ramble in adoration for every single book, I have decided to copy their official blurb.  I have linked my blog reviews where appropriate.

1. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender
‘In The Girl in the Flammable Skirt Aimee Bender has created a world where nothing is quite as it seems. From a man suffering from reverse evolution to a lonely wife who waits for her husband to return from war; to a small town where one girl has a hand made of fire and another has one made of ice. These stories of men and women whose lives are shaped and sometimes twisted by the power of extraordinary desires take us to a place far beyond the imagination.’

2. Notwithstanding by Louis de Bernieres
”Welcome to the village of Notwithstanding, where a lady dresses in plus fours and shoots squirrels, a retired general gives up wearing clothes altogether, a spiritualist lives in a cottage with the ghost of her husband, and people think it quite natural to confide in a spider that lives in a potting shed. Based on de Bernieres’ recollections of the village he grew up in, Notwithstanding is a funny and moving depiction of a charming vanished England.

3. Collected Short Stories by Truman Capote
My reviews can be found here and here.

4. Black Venus by Angela Carter
‘Extraordinary and diverse people inhabit this rich, ripe, occasionally raucous collection of short stories. Some are based on real people – Jeanne Duval, Baudelaire’s handsome and reluctant muse who never asked to be called the Black Venus, trapped in the terminal ennui of the poet’s passion, snatching at a little lifesaving respectability against all odds…Edgar Allen Poe, with his face of a actor, demonstrating in every thought and deed how right his friends were when they said ‘No man is safe who drinks before breakfast.’ And some of these people are totally imaginary. Such as the seventeenth century whore, transported to Virginia for thieving, who turns into a good woman in spite of herself among the Indians, who have nothing worth stealing. And a girl, suckled by wolves, strange and indifferent as nature, who will not tolerate returning to humanity. Angela Carter wonderfully mingles history, fiction, invention, literary criticism, high drama and low comedy in a glorious collection of stories as full of contradictions and surprises as life itself.’

5. Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler
‘In these tales, young women go on long and difficult quests, wicked stepmothers turn children into geese and tsars ask dangerous riddles, with help or hindrance from magical dolls, cannibal witches, talking skulls, stolen wives, and brothers disguised as wise birds. Half the tales here are true oral tales, collected by folklorists during the last two centuries, while the others are reworkings of oral tales by four great Russian writers: Alexander Pushkin, Nadezhda Teffi, Pavel Bazhov and Andrey Platonov. In his introduction to these new translations, Robert Chandler writes about the primitive magic inherent in these tales and the taboos around them, while in the afterword, Sibelan Forrester discusses the witch Baba Yaga.’

6. The Tales of Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
‘Anton Chekhov’s short fiction is admired and cherished by readers the world over. This stunning boxed set brings together the largest, most comprehensive selection of his stories, all full of humor, truth, and vast insight. Included are the familiar masterpieces-“The Kiss,” “The Darling,” and “The Lady with the Dog”–as well as several brilliant but lesser-known tales such as “A Blunder,” “Hush!,” and “Champagne.” The entire collection is introduced by Richard Ford’s perceptive essay “Why We Like Chekhov. while each individual volume includes a brief reminiscence on the meaning of Chekhov from a celebrated author, among them Nadine Gordimer, Susan Sontag, Harold Brodkey, Cynthia Ozick, and Russell Banks. Amidst a sea of Chekhov translations, Constance Garnett, who brought Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Turgenev to the English-speaking world, has a style particularly suited to Chekhov’s prose. Her benchmark translations enable readers to immerse themselves in his world, experiencing the breadth of his talent in one voice.’

7. Paris Tales, edited by Helen Constantine
Paris Tales is a highly evocative collection of stories by French and Francophone writers who have been inspired by specific locations in this most visited of capital cities. The twenty-two stories – by well-known writers including Nerval, Maupassant, Colette, and Echenoz – provide a captivating glimpse into Parisian life from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. The stories take us on an atmospheric tour of the arrondissements and quartiers of Paris, charting the changing nature of the city and its inhabitants, and viewing it through the eyes of characters such as the provincial lawyer’s wife seeking excitement, a runaway schoolboy sleeping rough, and a lottery-winning policeman. From the artists’ haunts of Montmartre to the glamorous cafes of Saint-Germain, from the shouts of demonstrators on Boul Mich’ to the tranquillity of Parc Monceau, Paris Tales offers a fascinating literary panorama of Paris. Illustrated with maps and striking photographs, the book will appeal to all those who wish to uncover the true heart of this seductive city.’

8. Astray by Emma Donoghue
‘With the turn of each page, the characters that roam across these pages go astray. They are emigrants, runaways, drifters; gold miners and counterfeiters, attorneys and slaves. They cross borders of race, law, sex, and sanity. They travel for love or money, under duress or incognito. A sequence of fourteen fact-inspired fictions about travels to, in and from North America, Astray offers a past in scattered pieces, a surprising and moving history for restless times.’

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Our Big Summer Readathon: Wrap-Up

I have taken part in a very fun project with Lizzi at These Little Words this summer, reading a lot of Truman Capote’s writing.  I thought that since our reviews of his work are (almost!) all up, I would make a little wrap-up post so that the links to each are all in one place.

The Grass Harp Lizzi’s review | My review | Ali’s review | Ana fiches de lectures’ review
Short Stories (1) Lizzi’s review | My review | Ali’s review
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Lizzi’s review | My review | Ali’s review
Short Stories (2) Lizzi’s review | My review | Ali’s review
Summer Crossing Lizzi’s review | My review | Ali’s review

If you took part in the Capote Readathon, or have reviews of any of the books above which you would like me to link to this post, please do let me know!

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Our Big Summer Readathon: ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ by Truman Capote *****

I first watched the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s some years ago, and whilst I liked it, I was not immediately captivated by it.  I was still so keen to read the novella, however, and was so pleased to find a beautiful Penguin edition in a secondhand bookshop in Coventry a couple of years ago.  I read it almost immediately, and was thrilled to learn that the novella is so much better than the book that a comparison in the favour of the original is barely necessary.  (A quick synopsis of the reasons why, for me, the book is far better than the film, however, are as follows: the entirety of the novella is lively and compelling, and to me, the characters are far more realistic on the page than on the screen.  I do not feel that the film characters were made of the same stuff, as it were, as the novella’s protagonists).  I was not planning to re-read Breakfast at Tiffany’s, as the story was still so vivid in my mind, but once I began to look at it once again, I could not help myself but become immersed in Capote’s words and plot.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, probably Capote’s most famous work, was published in 1958, and has remained popular ever since.  It focuses upon the character Holly Golightly, whom I remembered as being such an intriguing being; feisty and unusual in her characteristics, decisions and mannerisms.  The novella is told from the first person perspective of a male narrator who lives in the same apartment building as her, and is set (as I am sure everyone already knows) in New York City.  A chance likeness of Holly spotted in a photograph is what prompts the narrator to tell her story.

Holly is first introduced when she has forgotten – or lost – the key to her apartment, and consequently wakes the Japanese man, Mr Yunioshi, who lives on the top floor.  I absolutely adore Capote’s initial description of his heroine: ‘… the ragbag colours of her boy’s hair, tawny streaks, strands of albino-blond and yellow, caught the hall light.  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 rough pink darkening in the cheeks’.  She is ‘shy two months of her nineteenth birthday’.  The narrator goes on to say: ‘One might have thought her a photographer’s model, perhaps a young actress, except that it was obvious, judging from her hours, she hadn’t time to be either’.

At first, she seems oblivious to the existence of the narrator, only making him the focus of her frequent entrances into the apartment block without her key.  He, however, learns more and more about her as the story goes on.  They meet each other properly when one evening, Holly climbs up the fire escape to the narrator’s apartment on the floor above hers, in order to escape an odious man who is in her room.

The characterisation in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is incredibly strong; Holly is quirky, vivacious and not afraid to speak her mind, and it is impossible to forget her in a hurry.  One trusts the kindly narrator immediately.  The dialogue between the two, and which encompasses some of the more minor characters in the novella too, is exemplary.  Capote’s prose and the tone which he sets is utterly perfect.  He brilliantly demonstrates the power of friendship in his memorable and stunning novella.

This is the last post of mine and Lizzi’s Big Summer Readathon, and I have had such a fun time working on our little project.  Thanks so much, Lizzi, for co-hosting this, and I hope we can focus on another author soon!

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Our Big Summer Readathon: Short Stories (2) by Truman Capote *****

Our Big Summer Readathon, co-hosted here at The Literary Sisters and at theselittlewords, encompasses the final six of Capote’s short stories: ‘Master Misery’, ‘Children on Their Birthdays’, ‘A Diamond Guitar’, ‘A House of Flowers’, ‘Among the Paths to Eden’ and ‘Mojave’.  These stories were written over a far longer period than those in the first half, and really show how Capote developed as a writer, and how different themes prevalent at the time affected his work.

1. ‘Master Misery’ (1949)
‘Master Misery’ follows a character named Sylvia, a typist at a New York underwear company.  She lives with her friends Henry and Estelle, who are ‘so excrutiatingly married… [that] everything had a name; the telephone was Tinkling Tillie, the sofas Our Nelle, the bed, Big Bear; yes, and what about those His-Her towels, those He-She pillows?  Enough to drive you loony!’.  Sylvia has taken the job merely to escape their apartment during the day.  The main thread of the story comes when Sylvia discovers that there is a man in the city whom it is possible to sell dreams to, and how this affects her in consequence.

The storyline is quite lovely, I think, despite the chilling aspects of it which begin to creep in as it goes on.  The tale is incredibly character focused, and the thing which I first noticed about it was that characterisation is most interesting, particularly from a psychological standpoint.  Mr Revercomb, the buyer of dreams, for example, is described as follows: ‘All mothers tell their kids about him: he lives in hollows of trees, he comes down chimneys late at night, he lurks in graveyards and you can hear his step in the attic.  The sonofabitch, he is a thief and a threat.  He will take everything you have, and end by leaving you nothing, not even a dream’.

2. ‘Children on Their Birthdays’ (1949)
The tale takes place in a small town, and its beginning is both strong and intriguing: ‘Yesterday afternoon the six o’clock bus ran over Miss Bobbit.  I’m not sure what there is to be said about it; after all, she was only ten years old, still I know no one of us in this town would ever forget her’.  The story focuses upon Miss Bobbit and those who make up the town, particularly with regard to the way in which she and her accident affect Capote’s younger creations.

I had read this before, but it was marvellous to immerse myself into the story once again.  The entirety is incredibly vivid.  I was struck once again by how beautifully Capote described both places and characters.  His protagonists are so lifelike in this story that they almost leap from the page.

3. ‘A Diamond Guitar’ (1950)
‘A Diamond Guitar’ takes place within a prison, and encompasses characters from many different races and backgrounds.  A guitar encrusted with diamonds is what ties them all together, so to speak.

This is another story which I had already read, but I found Capote’s initial description of the prison just as vivid and oppressive as I previously had.  He brings his scenes to life immediately, and has such a wonderful imagination.  His characters meld together so well, and the entire cast is memorable.  The ending of the story is sublime.

4. ‘A House of Flowers’ (1952)
‘A House of Flowers’ takes place in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  One of the cornerstones of the plot is friendship, telling as it does of the protagonist Ottilie and her two friends, Baby and Rosita, both of whom hail from the Dominican Republic.  They consider their origins ‘reason enough to feel themselves a little above the natives of this darker country’.  Ottilie has had to grow up before her time: ‘Her mother was dead, her father was a planter who had gone back to France, and she had been brought up in the mountains by a rough peasant family, the sons of whom had each at a young age lain with her in some green and shadowy place’.

Again, I had read this before, but it was another fabulous story to re-encounter.  Although Ottilie is a cunning and selfish creation who heavily focuses upon vanity, one cannot help but feel some shreds of sympathy for her.  In ‘A House of Flowers’, I particularly love the way in which Capote captures emotion; joy particularly is marvellously evoked.

5. ‘Among the Paths to Eden’ (1960)
Mr Ivor Belli, at the beginning of ‘Among the Paths to Eden’, is going to visit his wife’s grave: ‘One Saturday in March, an occasion of pleasant winds and sailing clouds, Mr. Ivor Belli bought from a Brooklyn florist a fine mass of jonquils and conveyed them, first by subway, then foot, to an immense cemetery in Queens, a site unvisited by him since he hd seen his wife buried there the previous autumn’.  He has decided to visit her, in part, to appease his eldest daughter, who ‘seemed resentful of Mr. Belli’s too comfortable acceptance of life as lived alone’.  Throughout, Capote demonstrates the relationship which Ivor had with his wife, Sarah: ‘Lord, what a relief to know the woman’s tongue was finally stilled’.  Through a chance encounter with a woman named Mary O’Meaghan by his wife’s gravestone, Ivor reflects upon her life, and the way in which they lived together.

The way in which Capote describes the cemetery fits perfectly with the story, sets the tone, and evokes the scene from the very first: ‘acres of fog-coloured stone spilled across a sparsely grassed and shadeless plateau’.  The story is surprising; one does not expect, with the opening of the story, for a plot of this sort to unfold.  The real strength of this story is the conversation which ensues between Ivor and Mary O’Meaghan.

6. ‘Mojave’ (1975)
‘Mojave’ tells of an affair which the protagonist is having with her former psychoanalyst: ‘He had not been of much help as an analyst, and as a lover – well, once she had watched him running to catch a bus, two hundred and twenty pounds of shortish, fiftyish, frizzly-haired, hip-heavy, myopic Manhattan Intellectual, and she had laughed: how was it possible that she could love a man so ill-humored, so ill-favored as Ezra Bentsen?  The answer was she didn’t: in fact, she disliked him.  But at least she didn’t associate him with resignation and despair.  She feared her husband; she was not afraid of Dr. Bentsen.  Still, it was her husband she loved’.

There are so many themes at work in ‘Mojave’, and an incredible amount of sympathy is built for the protagonist as she tells her story.

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Our Big Summer Readathon: ‘Summer Crossing’ by Truman Capote *****

Whilst Truman Capote’s Summer Crossing was the first novel which the author penned, it was discovered posthumously, and was first published in 2005. The executors of his will were in two minds about whether it should be made readily available to the public, and I for one am so glad that it was.  I feel privileged to be able to read Capote’s work in all of its forms, but there is something about Summer Crossing almost being hidden from public eyes which makes me all the more thankful to have been able to engross myself into the story.

Summer Crossing is set in post-World War II New York.  The focus is upon a seventeen-year-old girl, ‘a young carefree socialite’ named Grady McNeil.  Her parents go off to England – thus taking the ‘summer crossing’ of the novel’s title – and leave her alone in their Fifth Avenue penthouse for the summer.  The blurb succinctly described how this impacts upon Grady’s life: ‘Left to her own devices, Grady turns up the heat on the secret affair she’s been having with a Brooklyn-born Jewish war veteran who works as a parking lot attendant.  As the season passes, the romance turns more serious and morally ambiguous, and Grady must eventually make a series of decisions that will forever affect her life and the lives of everyone around her’.

Even before I began to read, I was expecting to find a heroine like Breakfast at Tiffany‘s quirky Holly Golightly.  There are similarities between Grady and Holly, of course, but Grady is also something wholly original – she is a distinct character in her own right, who has been built to perfection and comes to life before the very eyes.  She is a vivid creation, and one who dances around in the mind for weeks after the final page of her tale is closed.  Capote launches into her family dynamic immediately, and so much is learnt about the characters in just the first few pages in consequence.  The friction which exists between Grady’s parents, and her elder sister Apple, has been perfectly portrayed – so much so that we are aware of it straight away.  The social and gender inequalities which he points out as the plot gathers speed help to ground Grady’s story in place and time.  Capote’s understanding of the human psyche comes across as intelligently as is possible on the page.

I adore the premise of Summer Crossing, and would have been thrilled to come across it if it had been by another author.  The mere fact that it was penned by Truman Capote, however, put it on something of a pedestal to me, and I was so excited to see how such an intriguing storyline would work when coupled with his beautiful and distinctive writing in its earliest stages.  The Modern Library edition’s blurb calls it a ‘precocious, confident first novel’; to an extent it is, but upon reading it, it feels like so much more.  Whilst it is slim – the edition which I read ran to only 126 pages – it touches upon so many themes, and its plot is constructed of a weight of layers, each of which comes together beautifully upon its conclusion.

As I invariably am, I was struck by Capote’s writing throughout Summer Crossing; his descriptions particularly hold such beauty: ‘whose green estimating eyes were like scraps of sea’, ‘bones of fish-spine delicacy’, ‘dream-trapped faces’, ‘joyful dark’, and ‘evening effigies embalmed and floating in the caramel-sweet air’ are just a few examples.  The way in which Capote uses words is masterful; he builds scenes in such a stunning manner, and ensures that everything he describes is as vivid as it can possibly be.  For a debut novel, Summer Crossing feels incredibly polished, and wonderfully wrought.  I was swept away into the story from the very first page.  It is fascinating to see how Capote has developed as a writer from these beginnings, but this novel is just as strong, surprising and well-plotted as his later work.

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Our Big Summer Readathon: ‘The Grass Harp’ by Truman Capote *****

The Grass Harp, one of Truman Capote’s novellas, was first published in 1951, and uses a limited first person narrative perspective throughout.  The narrator of the piece, eleven-year-old Collin Fenwick, is an orphan; both of his parents lay beneath a ‘hill of barewhite slabs and brown burnt flowers’.  The novella takes its name from one of the most vivid and beautiful quotes in the story: ‘Below the hill grows a field of high Indian grass which changes color with the seasons; go see it in the fall, late September, when it has gone red as sunset, when scarlet shadows like firelight breeze over it and the autumn winds strum on its dry leaves sighing human music, a harp of voices’.

Following the death of his father, Collin is sent to live with two of his father’s cousins, kindly Dolly and formidable Verena.  Dolly takes him under her wing from the first, telling him all about the natural magic which surrounds his new home.  She focuses particularly on the ‘harp of voices’ below the graveyard: ‘Do you hear? that is the grass harp, always telling a story – it knows the story of all the people on the hill, of all who ever lived, and when we are dead it will tell ours, too.’  When Dolly falls out with her sister, she takes Collin and her best friend Catherine to live in what they believe to be their secret treehouse.  They are soon joined by feared and revered local teen, Riley, and the widowed Judge Cool.

As I mentioned yesterday in the first of my Capote short story reviews, the focus upon different types of relationships between the characters is one of the real strengths of the novella, and has been wrought with such precision.  The way in which he details how his characters act with one another, and the small kindnesses which they perform, has been thought out with such care.  I am always struck by how well Capote knows his characters, and how they are able to spring to life before the very eyes of the reader in consequence.  As in the short stories too, the imagery which Capote creates is gorgeous, particularly when it relates to the protagonists: ‘The snowflake of Dolly’s face’, and a voice ‘crinkling as tissue paper’.

The Grass Harp is a stunning novella, which throws up surprises at each and every turn.  Even the minor characters who people the town dance to life upon the page, giving the whole an incredibly vivid feel.  Capote has crafted yet another wonderful piece of fiction within its pages, and not a single word has been wasted.

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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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Our Big Summer Readathon: Truman Capote

Summers are perfect for reading great swathes of books, and what could be better than focusing upon a writer whom everyone has heard of, but whom nobody really seems to read?  I am sure that a lot of you will be familiar with Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, but have you read any of Truman Capote’s short stories before?  Are you familiar with his other novella, The Grass Harp?  Do you know what his recently discovered novel, Summer Crossing, is about?

Whether you answered no to any of the above questions, or if you squealed a ‘yes’ and are excited about what may be coming next, we would love you to join us with our Big Summer Readathon.  Lizzi from theselittlewords and I have decided to read through a lot of American author Truman Capote’s work over the next two months, and will be scheduling posts with our reviews on the last two days of both July and August.  Both of us are using the fabulous A Capote Reader as our starting point, and shall be reading Summer Crossing as an accompanying volume (the review for this will be posted in mid-August).

Our Big Summer Readathon schedule is as follows:

July:
Novella – The Grass Harp
Short stories – ‘Miriam’, ‘My Side of the Matter’, ‘A Tree of Night’, ‘Jug of Silver’, ‘The Headless Hawk’, ‘Shut a Final Door’

August:
Novella – Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Short stories – ‘Master Misery’, ‘Children on Their Birthdays’, ‘A Diamond Guitar’, ‘House of Flowers’, ‘Among the Paths to Eden’, ‘Mojave’
Novel – Summer Crossing

 

If you would like any more information about our readathon, please visit Lizzi’s wonderful introductory post.  If you are planning to join us, please do let us know!  Our aim is to get as many people to read Capote’s fabulous work as we can, and we would love to hear if you want to get involved with our project.