Truman Capote: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

As mentioned before, New York Times has started a book club – the Big City Book Club. Ginia Bellafonte is in charge and every six weeks or so, she decides which book to feature and then people can comment on her blog. All the books chosen will be about New York City in some way or other. The third book chosen is Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The next book club will be on January 10th – the book has not been named yet. I read Breakfast at Tiffany’s back in 2009 and liked it, but didn’t love it. I read it in a volume which contained Breakfast at Tiffany’s as well as three other short stories. Here I’m featuring the review I wrote back then.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
This is the longest story in the book and the most well-known. Our narrator lives in the same building as Holiday Golightly, a young woman with a spunky attitude who earns her living by making “trips to the powder room”. Her apartment is a mess and in some ways, so is her life but on the surface she’s calm and collected and always looking perfect behind her dark glasses. The narrator and a fellow friend meet because the friend maybe has news about Holly whom they both lost track of.
Holly is a girl with a past. She’s also a girl completely in control on the outside but in need of people to help her get everything together. She’s a person who can’t be trapped – or named – just like her cat who lives with her but has no name because they don’t belong together because Holly doesn’t want to own things before she’s found a place where she and things belong together, a home. She’s one of those persons that you meet in your life, spend a summer or a year with and then they disappear from your life but you always look back on that time and smile.
Holly has created her own version of what she thinks men want – and she studies hard to keep on top of her subject. Books about baseball etc so she can talk with men. But behind the facade, she’s mostly a scared and a bit naive girl who escapes to Tiffany’s when life gets too hard.
But when all comes to all, Holly didn’t really get to me. Maybe because the story is too short to really get under her skin – even though I know perfectly who she is. And I liked that the ending wasn’t all Hollywood. But something just didn’t resonate with me the way I needed it too… On the other hand, the shortness of the novel is also the way other people get to know Holly – she’s only in your life a short while so the way we as the reader experience her is also the way people in her life see her.
But I do like the way Capote write – like this quote: “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 in 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.”(35) I love this description of a man!

House of Flowers
A young girl earning her living as a prostitute, meets a young man who she falls in love with – the bee didn’t sting – and marries. However, his grandmother tries her hardest to make life hard for the girl and starts putting various animals in her sewing basket. To get even with her, the girl starts making the grandmother’s dinner by using the various animals she find in the basket…
A story about choosing your fate – even when others don’t agree with your choice.

A Diamond Guitar
This prison story is about accepting life – and knowing who’s truly your friend. Mr. Schaeffer is in prison for murder and one day, a young man is imprisoned. The two men becomes friends – even though the new man plays songs on his guitar that reminds the prisoners of life outside: “Now, recognizing his loneliness, he felt alive. He had not wanted to be alive. To be alive was to remember brown rivers where the fish run, and sunlight on a lady’s hair.”(143) And when you’re in prison and starts longing for the outside, it can make you make dangerous decisions…

A Christmas Memory
This was my favourite story in the book. Seven year old ‘Buddy’ lives together with his distant cousin, an older woman, and their dog, the rat terrier Queenie. Each christmas they bake a lot of fruitcakes and send them to various people and look forward to receiving thank you cards back. This christmas, their last together, they also hunt for a very special tree.
The story is a somewhat melancholic recollection of this christmas but very sweet and touching. And Capote got the dog completely – they put a bone for her in the tree close to the top and “Queenie knows it’s there. She squats at the foot of the tree staring up in a trance of greed: when bedtime arrives she refuses to budge.” I can just see that small terrier sitting there, waiting determined for her bone!

All in all, 4 okay stories from a great writer. I really like Capote’s way of writing in these stories but as always, I’m not the biggest fan of short stories and I more often than not find that they don’t linger with me – simply because they are too short to really register, I think. And I was a bit disappointed with Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Previous posts about the Big City Book Club:

Helen Schulman: This Beautiful Life

Colum McCann: Let the Great World Spin

Colum McCann: Let the Great World Spin

New York Times has started a new book club – the Big City Book Club. Ginia Bellafonte is in charge and every six weeks or so, she decides which book to read and then people can comment on her blog. All the books chosen will be about New York City in some way or other. The first book chosen was Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin and since I’ve been wanting to read this for a while, I jumped on the bandwagon and read it – and loved it. The next book club will be on October 18 – the book as the second read is Helen Schulman This Beautiful Life – another novel I’ve been looking forward to.

Colum McCann: Let the Great World Spin (Random House, 2009).

Sometimes something happen that brings a lot of people together. Things happen that we will always remember. We will ask each other where where you when … and we all know and remember. This book takes place in NYC and of course, if you talk about an event that has brought NYC together, you immediately think about 9-11. But this book is not about 9-11 – well, not explicitly at least. Even though it’s written after 2001 and even though it involves the Twin Towers, this is not about their destruction but rather a celebration of the towers. A reminder of that these towers stood and they inspired greatness.
The one event that connects a lot of these people one way or another is a guy walking on a tightrope between the towers. In 1974, Philippe Petit walked on a wire between the two still unfinished towers for 45 minutes. This event is the starting point for McCann’s novel.
“He had made himself into a statue, but a perfect New York one, a temporary one, up in the air, high above the city. A statue that had no regard for the past. He had gone to the World Trade Center and had strung his rope across the biggest towers in the world. The Twin Towers. Of all places. So brash. So glassy. So forward-looking.”
For me, this is a masterpiece. I so enjoyed reading this book. Each chapter focus on a new character and slowly, the characters connect with each other and with the tightrope walk in more and more ways. I was so intrigued by this idea of how people exist side by side in a city but is drawn into each other’s lives in so many different ways, sometimes connected by daily occurrences and at other times connected by something extraordinary. “One of those out-of-the-ordinary days that made sense of the slew of ordinary days. New York had a way of going that. Every now and then the city shook its soul out. It assailed you with an image, or a day, or a crime, or a terror, or a beauty so difficult to wrap your mind around that you had to shake your head in disbelief.” (at 69 %).
This is a story of two Irish brothers, one of whom (Corrigan) is a kind of priest, who is helping out a group of hookers. Chief among the hookers are Tillie and her daughter Jazzlyn. It’s about Claire and Gloria and the rest of their group of mothers who meet to talk about the sons they lost in Vietnam. It’s about a artist couple, trying to recreate NYC in the 20s. It’s a group of hackers, it’s a graffiti fan. It’s a judge. After Corrigan and Jazzlyn is in an accident, the scope of the novel slowly unfolds and more and more people are involved and connected.
It’s hard to detail what it’s about since it’s about the lives of a lot of very different people but the beauty of it all is that these people are connected and connecting in many different ways as their lives unfold. It offers a glimpse of all the lives coming together and then separating again, because of one event. And the tightrope walker becomes a catalyst while at the same time being just one life among many. But still, this is not entirely true because not all stories are connected to other stories or even to the tightrope walker.
It’s about lives in a city. One summer in NYC in 1974 – and then with a epilogue in 2006 – people’s lives were touched by this one man’s feat.
I felt for a lot of these people, not the least for Claire who has lost a son in Vietnam. And I was constantly thrilled with the way it’s written. The author uses repetitions, not only in the stories where you see the same thing from different points of view but also to emphasize certain points. He also changes his writing style to accommodate some of the characters very different way of speaking and thinking – for instance Tillie.
But even though this is not a 9-11 novel per se, it still mentions 9-11 – and in a very beautiful way: “A man high in the air while a plane disappears, it seems, into the edge of the building. One small scrap of history meeting a larger one. As if the walking man were somehow anticipating what would come later. The intrusion of time and history. The collision point of stories. We wait for the explosion but it never occurs. The plane passes, the tightrope walker gets to the end of the wire. Things don’t fall apart.”.
This is exactly what this book is about – points, where stories collide. Points where lives collide. And it’s magical even though the stories are so real, so painful. Not many happy endings here. But the books ends on a happy note still and it left me feeling sorry that it was over but happy that I had read it.
This is a story of how one man’s obsession, one man’s feeling that when you put up two towers like these, he just had to put a line between them and walk it, one man’s dream can unite a city and like a stone thrown in water, create circles that grow and grow and touch more and more.