THE COMPLETE STORIES – Truman Capote

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I have just purchased this Truman Capote Penguin Classic.

My recent review of OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS is shown HERE.

I intend to real-time review all the Truman Capote stories and, if I do, my comments will eventually be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above.

42 thoughts on “THE COMPLETE STORIES – Truman Capote

  1. THE WALLS ARE COLD (1943)

    “Really, isn’t that charming? I mean the coincidence.”

    Capote (green enough not to have yet breached his own icy walls of adolescence) must have been even as young as his bright-eyed thing of a teenage heroine when he wrote this story about her, wherein a grizzled gauche sailor from the South finds himself at the party, an accidental gatecrasher, and clumsily attempts to crash a sexual gate through which he thought he’d been invited….
    A telling embrasure towards creating the true man that any boy hopes to become, except truth can differ from self to self as one passes through time and in turn inhabits each self per capita, warm and cold alike?

  2. A MINK OF ONE’S OWN (1944)

    “They went into the bedroom and Mrs Munson tried on the coat in front of her full-length closet mirror.”

    After the cold walls, what would be more appropriate than a mink coat?
    Actually, I am beginning to be reinforced by Tony’s alert – during my ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’ review – to the Elizabeth Bowen connection. This definitely has the spirit of a Bowen story, particularly early Bowen, with the trying on of clothes, the disappointment, the betrayal…
    I recently reviewed the Bowen ‘Encounters’ stories HERE, all of which she wrote at an incredibly young age and, like this Capote work written at a similar age, are resonantly mature.

  3. Capote sounded made alone early, and seems in many ways to have clung to childhood (even refusing to grow). But if that is true, where did his wisdom come from? And it feels a shame to be glad he was how he was, a kind of tortured, Bonsai person. Joy and pain alternates – very rapidly – in Capote, as it does in the best writers.

  4. I’ve started reading these, too. What is it in A Mink of One’s Own, in the presence of the schoolyard, that so unnerved me? Capote has such a fine sense of when to use certain locations for effect, not that it’s JUST an effect.

  5. THE SHAPE OF THINGS (1944)

    To come? Music by Bliss.

    “Before this trip I never dreamt there were so many in the world, soldiers, I mean. You just never realize until you get on a train.”

    I am beginning to think that Capote and Bowen share a soul, one that triangulates the effect of the Second World War ‘back home’ … one author in USA and young, the other in London and now middle-aged. Those shoals of the dead, as Bowen put it, climbing onto trains, trying to do ordinary things like ordering coffee in a buffet car: the near dead, the shellshocked and the drunk. Here, the triangulated views of four people in perceptive interface with those changing realities. The shape of things past come back to haunt us. Or, as Proust would put it, remembrance of things past.

  6. JUG OF SILVER (1945)

    There is an intrinsically magical quality about this story, without being able to fathom exactly its nature.
    The boy called Appleseed, like David Copperfield, was born with a caul on his head. His sister Middy needed her teeth mending. But did the ‘Egyptian’ dentist in the story end up mending them? Only one of the questions with which we are left unanswered at the end.
    A charmingly deadpan story of two chemist shops in rivalry across the street, but one of them starts the gimmick, upon a particularly cold Christmas, of filling a jug with silver money and inviting guesses as to the total amount of money in the jug, the winner with the correct guess then getting the whole jugful. Not exactly a Tontine.
    By books talking to books preternaturally, is that how I managed to guess the precisely correct amount in the jug myself, BEFORE the winner did in the story? The last line of the story at least answers THAT question.

  7. Jug of Silver is Capote’s most Rockwellian, crowd-pleasing story, not to dismiss it, but he can’t stop himself with the crude/eerie/haunting touches. ‘Morbidity is children’s saving grace.’

  8. MIRIAM (1945)

    “Friday was no different from Saturday and on Sunday she went to the grocery: closed, of course.”

    Capote fiction seems generously sown with throwaway lines that you feel compelled to keep safe. Something uniquely diaphanous but tangibly meaningful, like a ghost that summons the self, and vice versa.
    This is a perfect example. Where has this story been all my life? Turning up, like this.

    I EMpathised with the point of view of the girl called Miriam: an Alice in a downbeat version of wonderland that she was determined to destroy before growing into it and accepting it. Yet, I SYMpathised with the woman who was already there. A classic ghost story of an inimical ghost on one level, a telling parable on another.

    In a style to die for.

  9. MY SIDE OF THE MATTER (1945)

    “The facts: 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.”

    Note the preternatural coincidence of dates!

    This is a hilarious theme and variations upon and precursor of the ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’ ethos of travelling to an initially off-putting scenario of a house in Alabama and its residents. A farcical inversion of that novel, complete with a sword, as the narrator, having married at 16 a girl of 16, meets her two aunts who start by calling him a runt.

    “‘Look at the likes of him,’ says Eunice, ‘lying around all day not doing so much as licking a postage stamp.'”

    The last paragraph is a master-stroke worthy of the creator of Joel Knox.

  10. PREACHER’S LEGEND (1945)

    “…and the bluejays, watching from the pine branches, flew away in rage and terror.”

    These bluejays, equaivalent to Marcel Schwob’s ‘strigae’…?
    Preacher by nickname, not a preacher as such, is so ancient (but exactly how ancient?), and ‘strigae’ represent the least welcome visitation he needs, I guess. He has girlie posters tacked up in his hut. Though, after ‘reading’ his Good Bible osmotically because we learn from a visitation by his dead wife in his mind that he can’t read at all, he walks far with his sycamore cane amid the weeds to wait for Mistuh Jesus…As he does every day, I assume.
    Meets, today, two wildcat poachers instead, one of which grizzled chancers he thinks is Him come at last. An amusing and intensely poignant essay in old age’s encroaching dream of death, embroidered with perfect ‘night cadences’ and other exquisite language designs, dissonantly punctuated by Preacher’s own elisions of crude speech.
    A powerful character study that made me discover the incipient ‘Preacher’ soul within me. Though, it’s Gestalt Literature for me not Mistuh Jesus.

  11. A TREE OF NIGHT (1945)

    “His gray hair was clipped close and combed forward into uneven bangs. He looked like a child aged abruptly by some uncanny method.”

    This story itself is one of the most uncanny I have ever read, I think. Or is haunting a better word than uncanny, haunting without ghosts? People meeting up on a train journey, a young girl holding a green guitar, travelling home after attending her uncle’s funeral, and a middle-aged couple with whom she seats herself with no room in the carriages elsewhere. The female half of the couple seems intent on keeping her talking, keeping her sitting there. The man, I imagine, to be a deadened lump, “complacent to be seen, uninterested in seeing”, a variety act, apparently, at fairgrounds and in shop windows, where he can hypnotise himself to act dead – or even BE dead for a while? I am merely recounting the story in the same deadpan way as the man touches the girl or offers her a seed from his pocket as a charm. But there is far more to the story than that, and I came away from it deeply affected but numb. A strange mixture…. And I haven’t even told you about the tree.

    “The tale that followed was baffling and pointless:”

  12. It all feels new, doesn’t it? He goes into places we never imagined existed. He WILL affect your taste and style, if I’m right. I felt like a car pushed off a road reading him for the first time. But…it’s kind of lonely, because he feels so little read now. But it’s a special loneliness. An abstract club.

  13. THE HEADLESS HAWK (1946)

    “There are certain works of art which excite more interest in their creators than in what they have created, usually because in this kind of work one is able to identify something which has until that instant seemed a private inexpressible perception, and you wonder: who is this that knows me, and how?”

    That is spot on, with this story itself for me! But, how ironic, when I have spent a good few years of my life publishing fiction by authors in a publication entitled Nemonymous. Having said that, however, the process of late-labelling the Nemonymous author’s identity AFTER the reader has read it seems to be in tune with the above quotation, by giving scope for that curiosity over a greater length of time.

    But what of this substantive work itself? I don’t know where to start. At first it does remind me of the type of stories that I happened to choose for publication in Nemonymous, for example those by Ursula Pflug, David V. Griffin, John Travis, Tony Lovell and many others.

    Inscrutable and haunting. A vision of a figure one meets, with dubious identity, who captivates, and finally evaporates.

    Here the man, whose backstory of previous lovers’ names betoken a catholic sexual taste, is drawn to a young girl who tries to sell him her painting. The painting, as described within the story, has various leitmotifs towards a tantalising gestalt of meaning – just as the story itself, with that painting within it, has a similar pattern of leitmotifs of its own.

    I was particularly struck by the nagging doom represented by the man she named as Destronelli, a mysterious identity who gave a nightmarish feeling of pursuit and a dogged depletion of any time available. All mixed with diaphanous lightness and memorable phrases. A story about ‘remoteness’.

    There is no way I can do justice to this story; it is one of those landmark reads you simply must read. Here, below, just a tiny few of many possible tasters to start captivating you, as the girl once started captivating Vincent, the main protagonist:-

    “….and his umbrella tapped codelike block after block.”
    “And it was true that about those whom he’d loved there was always a little something wrong, broken.”
    “It was as if her face were imposed upon his mind; he could no more dispossess it than could, for example, a dead man rid his legendary eyes of the last image seen.”
    “Candles are magic wands; light one and the world is a story book.”
    “…there had been in his own life a certain time of limbo when he’d gone to movies every day, often sitting through several repeats of the same film; it was in its way like religion, for there, watching the shifting patterns of black and white, he knew a release of conscience…”
    “…how gauche they must think him appearing at so elegant a gathering carrrying on his back, like Sinbad, a sordid old man.”
    “He’d never seen a butterfly in this city, and it was like a floating mysterious flower, like a sign of some sort…”
    “Somewhere in this hour of dusk a murderer separates himself from shadow and with a rope follows the flash of silk legs up doomed stairs.”

  14. SHUT A FINAL DOOR (1947)

    Walter, if everyone dislikes you, it is your fault. You create these situations. You are like an “adolescent female”, someone within this story says, but you, Walter, are also someone who uses tactics of nepotism to gain an executive job in advertising. So, not ALL the cards were dealt out badly to you, were they? Why do you always think you are ‘unloved’, Walter?
    You’d always been willing to confess your faults and, by admitting them, you think they no longer exist. Failure you feel is a certainty, and there is always peace in certainties, isn’t there?
    Who am I? Well, you know who I am.
    Click! the phone goes down, as in the story.

    Off-line, now, like Facebook…

    “He said you said they said we said round and round. Round and round, like the paddle-bladed ceiling fan wheeling above; turning and turning, stirring stale air ineffectively,…”

    “Listen, the fan: turning wheels of whisper: he said you said they said we said round and round fast and slow while time recalled itself in endless chatter.”

    “Four spinning fan blades, wheels and voices, round and round; and after all, as he saw it now, there was to this network of malice no ending, none whatever.”

    This remarkable story — with whose protagonist, named Walter, I have been talking as if he really exists outside of this fiction — is a most powerful one, of course. I thought this was really the only possible way to real-time review this story. To make it interact with me. I have done this with fiction works before.

    Powerful AND poignant. Walter’s encounter with the club-footed woman, in particular.

    There are messages to us all in Capote. Especially to myself. I do know who I am, after all.

    Another Fanblade Fable.

  15. CHILDREN ON THEIR BIRTHDAYS (1948)

    “I’m Miss Bobbit, said Cora, twisting her face into an evil imitation, and I’m Princess Elizabeth, that’s who I am, ha ha ha.”

    Capote is full of characters, it seems, who are children but acting like stars from the Bugsy Malone film. Not necessarily a sexualisation but only an adultisation, thankfully.
    Such a character is (ten year old?!) Miss Bobbit who arrives in town with her twirly parasol, and it is prefigured at the beginning she will reach a sorry end by the end. But during the relentlessly silky syrup of this flighty story and its prose, one forgets this fact by the end, and it becomes a shock, but a shock where one almost sighs with relief! The reader is naughtier even than the author. The rivalries of the boys over Miss Bobbit, the jealousy of other girls like Cora, all the cheeky maturities, the downright froth, the bitter recriminations, the wide boy con artist frauds, all of this becomes a symphony of sugar and ice – and it should not work at all, but it somehow does!

  16. I see words that repeat; yellow hair, orange hulls, bangs. Small people, slight people. I think Capote loved himself, not in a proud way, but in a way a person in solitary confinement might come to love themselves. I too feel to empathise with every character he writes.

  17. MASTER MISERY (1949)

    “Like a lonely city child, he was leaning against a parked car and bouncing a rubber ball up and down.”

    There are certain aspects of this story that are dreamcatching as well as literally ABOUT dreamcatching.
    I propose that these same aspects inspired many of the strands in the work of Stephen King, whether he admits it or not. Whether he was actually in direct contact with this story or not, he certainly dreamcaught it. Thanks to Capote.
    This story will stay with me forever, with its city genius loci, its wonderful phrases that are dreamcatching in themselves, its empathic character of Sylvia, the ball bouncing Oreilly, the clown dolls, the mechanical Santa, the two boys who may or may not have been the same two boys at the beginning as they were at the end, the man who bought dreams, the burly Miss Mozart, Sylvia’s friend Estelle and her husband Bootsy.
    A classic of weird as well as general literature, self-haunted, too, by ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’.

  18. THE BARGAIN (1950)

    “Where sympathy was concerned, Mrs. Chase knew thrift: before giving it she took the precaution of attaching a string,…”

    A theme and variations upon the template of ‘A Mink of One’s Own’, a relatively short story, that ends with the word ‘cold’. A subtle portrayal of subtle emotions as two women meet again, with backstories changed, even faces, and I sense Elizabeth Bowen’s ‘Shadowy Third’ at this meeting; but here it is neither of their respective absent menfolk but the mink coat itself ironically coming back to life with a sympathetic coldness. After all, Fred is a dog.

  19. A DIAMOND GUITAR (1950)

    “To be alive was to remember brown rivers where the fish run, and sunlight on a lady’s hair.”

    A prison farm, and an older inmate who has seasoned with the place, making dolls for pocket money; he befriends an eighteen year old who turns up with a diamond guitar, his playing sometimes evoking those ‘brown rivers’ et al. A platonic relationship biding upon an unconscious intensity. All beautifully conjured. A mixture of the boy’s tall stories and a dream of escape until the dream comes true, at least for one of them.
    In ‘A Tree of Night’, there was a girl with a green guitar into the soundbox of which she poured water. Merely a gratuitous connection on my part? Readers of fiction can do what they like. They are always right, like all customers. Draw your own conclusions at my arguably capricious connection… And with Mrs. Chase’s string of sympathy.

  20. HOUSE OF FLOWERS (1951)

    “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.”

    The story of Ottilie In Port-au-Prince, a popular girl under the wing of a proprietress, surrounded by the other women, ugly sisters when compared to Ottilie, two of whom are her good friends and who later appear as part of her dream, but they know themselves that it must be a dream as Ottilie is tied up by the young cock-fighting man she fell in love with, at the house of flowers haunted by his overpowering, booby-trapping grandmother called Old Bonaparte, haunted by her both before and after her death!…
    This is another prose-rich and ‘objective correlative’-memorable story of life’s self-punishment, this one as a part of the ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’ and ‘My Side of the Matter’ visit to a strange house as gothic-syndrome.

  21. A CHRISTMAS MEMORY (1956)

    “They call him Haha because he’s so gloomy,…”

    A memory by the older version of a seven year old boy and his constant ‘friend’ at that age, a sixty-something woman, a ‘marriage’ of habits and innocent delights, like fruitcake at Christmas and threading kites upon a geography of thermals. A relationship that was bound to end in tears, as time takes over. But what sort of tears? Mine were those of clear-eyed sentiment that I do not usually feel, not sentimental as such but honestly imbued with the spirituality of the day, their ‘today’, as long as it wasn’t a thirteenth of the month. The actual Christmas memories reminded me of Elizabeth Bowen whose fiction is full of such memories.

  22. AMONG THE PATHS TO EDEN (1960)

    “Mr. Bello had several vanities: for example, he thought he was saner than other people; also, he believed himself to be a walking compass; his digestion, and an ability to read upside down, were other ego-enlarging items.”

    If you’re buried in a grave, one of the above items would help you read your own headstone, I guess.
    The story of a widower, visiting his wife’s grave, forced to show his duty towards her, by such a rare visit despite his enjoyment of his freedom as a single. Meets a widow there and they sit together on his wife’s grave; she sings her imitation of his favourite film starlet. All this seems rather unlikely except in the story it’s perfectly natural. It’s as if fiction is a trial parallel world that really exists to make you appreciate there are no missed chances, because all could not have happened in any other way. A charming encounter with Je Ne Regrette Rien.
    Or there are ghosts that exist everywhere, and people you should have been, like that film starlet. Or someone else’s husband or wife. Best place to look for them is in a cemetery?
    The beauty of Capote is that his stories are sometimes fables that have morals bifurcating exponentially.
    Is that me looking down on me? Or you?
    Other paths, other Edens.

  23. THE THANKSGIVING VISITOR (1967)

    “…a custody battle that, for involved reasons, had left me stranded in this somewhat eccentric Alabama household.”

    And the moral of a fable or parable can itself have involved reasons, as it does in this sequel to (or concurrent episode of) the 1930s scenario in ‘A Christmas Memory’, featuring the the same small boy and his friendship with the sixty-something woman, and the same dog Queenie. It is a tale of a typical childhood at first, with a slightly sensitive boy being beset by a bully at school, one named Odd Henderson. Odd seems to have no redeeming features and he really ends up with none, after the events of this story. But it is the complicated outcome of snitching about someone else’s guilt being not always straightforward, a complex moral of life, where we shall all differ in our interpretations. As we shall with this story itself, one that skilfully left me with a sense of poignant stoicism about life, and a new awareness of my own so-called shortcomings and strengths that may be seen differently when viewed objectively by others, as I am similarly viewing the shortcomings and strengths of those who live forever crystallised in this story.

  24. MOJAVE (1975)

    “On hot nights him and Hulga used to sit outside her trailer on a swing-seat drinking straight tequila, forget the lime, and he’d play the guitar and sing spic songs. Ivory described it to me as a green guitar…”

    This is a confusing story. But life’s confusing much of the time, full of those ‘involved reasons’, like those morals – or lack or morals, more like. This is, for me, a Tennessee Williams hothouse of an affair, or several affairs, gratuitous insults like ‘hairy heels’, an abandoned husband in a desert, getting his due deserts, a story within a story, love affairs within love affairs, characters pretending to be other characters, and marital contracts to play the field. It was only when I saw the reference to the ‘green guitar’, did it all come together. Or sort of.

    “There’s two things I’m scared of. Snakes and women. One thing they have in common is: the last thing that dies is their tail.”

  25. ONE CHRISTMAS (1982)

    “Talk about green!”

    I am not equating Buddy with Top Cat himself. I wouldn’t, would I? I have followed WK Wimsatt’s ‘The Intentional Fallacy’ since 1967 when I first encountered it: the publication year of ‘The Thanksgiving Visitor’. Buddy is the boy in that Thanksgiving story, in ‘A Christmas Memory’, too, and maybe grown up as an extrapolated version of himself in ‘Preacher’s Legend’ seeking Mistuh Jesus … and now in this 1982 story. A fine story as a coda to a literary life, I guess, as it is also the book’s coda.

    “I said: ‘There is a Santa Claus because what he does is the Lord’s will and whatever is the Lord’s will is the truth.‘ And Billy Bob, spitting on the ground, walked away: ‘Well, looks like we’ve got another preacher on our hands.'”

    Effectively if not legitimately ‘orphaned’ Buddy leaves his ‘friend’, the sixty-something female cousin called Sook, who has been caring for this little boy, Sook for Book? Top Cat for TC. He reluctantly travels to New Orleans for Christmas to visit his estranged father, on the promise of real snow from Sook. But no snow. But only a Dad trying too hard, a detached Dad who is part of that confusing scene of affairs described in the ‘hard drink and no lime’ “Mojave”, as no doubt is Buddy’s mother, too, wherever she is. An inverse Joycean epiphany of there being no Santa Claus… But his Dad did get eventually get him the pedal plane for Christmas to start pedalling into the sky…

    For me, a similar pedalling has been reading TC for the first time, thanks to Tony Lovell’s recent recommendation.

  26. That too, in all honesty. Such terrible beginnings. Awful. He must have been in agony, emotionally. Was, really. And yet such joy he could feel, and give around. People actually fell sad when he left them.

  27. From the Capote biography; “Your stories have given me a strange, beautiful experience. I have not found the right way of saying how real and yet how fantastically poetic they seem to me. A famous man once said “That there is no true beauty that does not have some mark of strangeness on it.” – Newton Arvin

  28. “The most interesting story from those Trinity years is one that exists only in the memory. His ninth grade teacher handed it to a colleague without saying who had written it. The story described, in a dreamlike way, the sensation of rolling down a hill and tumbling into unconsciousness. “It was a lengthy manuscript. I was rather impressed by it. It had to do with children, and it had a feeling I found very remarkable. I couldn’t believe a boy of thirteen could have written it.”

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