Truman Capote

Book Review – Truman Capote: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

The narrator of Breakfast at Tiffany’s commented on “the inevitable sense of shortcoming” many writers experience. (Page 21) I wonder if Mr. Capote had these sensations when he finished writing this book. I wouldn’t even classify it as a novella. He took a series of clichés, added elements of salacious gossip and combined them into a book. The result was predictable.

From my reading of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I interpreted it at a character sketch of the protagonist presented through the eyes of the narrator. I couldn’t detect a plot. In essence, Holly Golightly shuffled through a series of unusual boyfriends. One worked as a horse doctor, another served as a Brazilian diplomat and yet another was an organized crime boss. While Holly’s unorthodox love life was interesting, I didn’t find it strong enough to sufficiently comprise a story.

I thought the narrator falling in love with her a very hackneyed story line. (I use the term ‘story’ loosely, here.) The two lived in the same building. He knew how frequently she changed men. She’d disappear for days. What caused the attraction?

On the same tangent, why did Holly keep moving from boyfriend to boyfriend? I understand she started out very poor (another hackneyed story line) and had aspirations of becoming a famous actress. (Once again, this story has been written myriad times.) Why? The depictions of her behavior suggested someone very flighty. It would’ve held my attention if the Mr. Capote presented some hints as to her motivations. “She grew up poor” just didn’t work for me.

To the extent Breakfast at Tiffany’s had a story I’m guessing one of the story sparks took place when…SPOILER ALERT….You know what? With all the clichés in this book, I’m sure readers already guessed by now: Holly’s long-lost husband showed up! Really? Truman Capote possessed skill as an author. I’m surprised that he couldn’t have come up with something more original here.

Since the author littered the book with clichés, I got the impression he saved all his creative ideas for the characters’ names. We encountered the protagonist, Holiday Golightly. We met a crime lord with a name that stuck terror into the hearts of his enemies. He went by the horrifying eponym: Sally Tomato. The author also introduced us to the narrator’s landlord named Sapphia Spanella. I didn’t find the book very good to begin with. The bizarre names just made it a caricature of itself.

At one point Holly told the narrator, “It’s better to look at the sky than live there.” (Page 74) I say looking at the sky is more entertaining than reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Book Review – In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Legend has it that while working on In Cold Blood Capote mentioned the title to an acquaintance. The person replied, “Does that refer to the murders or your writing about them?” After reading this book, I think Capote’s interlocutor was being generous. While this book came out in 1965, I found it much more sensationalistic and morbid than most modern tales about mass murder. I guess in one sense, the author deserves credit. That’s not an easy feat to achieve in America.

Capote referred to this book as a “non-fiction novel”. While I wished he’d have chosen a more pleasant topic, I agree with his assessment. The book included multifarious subject matter, all centered on the brutal executions of a family of four in Holcom, Kansas on November 15, 1959. (After reading In Cold Blood, that date will become fixed in your memory.) Capote detailed the Clutter family’s lives before that night, he described the man-hunt for the culprits and even the biographies of the killers themselves. I thought the last part rather unusual at first, but as the story went on, I understood: the author strove to portray them as people and not vicious monsters. I’d give Capote an “A” for effort on this. No matter what he wrote about them, I couldn’t sympathize with a sociopath and a pedophile.

It’s hard to find the words to explain the level of melodrama in this book. The author divided it into four sections. He titled them “The Last to See them Alive”, “Persons Unknown”, “Answer” and “The Corner”. The latter referred to the gallows’ nickname at the state prison. With regard to the first section: I obviously knew the Clutter family’s ultimate fate before I started reading. Did Capote really need to give readers a detailed account of each one’s last day?  And did he really need to describe teenaged Nancy’s laying out her clothes including, “the dress in which she was to be buried”? (Page 56)

Earlier I mentioned the question about the title’s meaning. I read several passages that showed author’s insensitivity. I don’t think it appropriate to quote them verbatim. He described in tacky detail the crime scene photos of the family. (Page 83) As if explaining the murderers shot each in the head with a shotgun didn’t get the point across.

Using creative license, Capote also took readers into the mind of one of the killers. The author provided us with his recollections of cutting one of the victim’s throats. (Page 110) The family had two surviving daughters. Out of respect for them alone, this passage shouldn’t have made it into the book.

While the author provided a strong case for the two killers’ death sentences, he argued for the contrary. Towards the end of the book, he summarized an article in The American Journal of Psychiatry from July of 1960. In it, several psychiatrists argued that some victims of abuse can be triggered to react violently. The person(s) they attack may “represent” the person(s) who wronged them. (298 – 300) In other words, these people suffer from a diminished capacity.

I’m not a death penalty supporter myself, but after reading this book I may need to re-evaluate. The author presented a detailed description of the two killers. He explained how they executed a family of four over less than $50.00. At no point did either express any remorse over the murders. Then he cited a professional study explaining that these people couldn’t control their impulses. I think he refuted his own stance on capital punishment.

The author performed copious research on this book. It enabled him to provide troubling insights into what happened and why. I wouldn’t want to read In Cold Blood again. It did make me wish Capote had lived long enough to compile a book on the Simpson trial, though.