The Complete Stories of Truman Capote by Truman Capote
Genre: Literary Short Stories
Publication Date: January 1993
Back when I was a morbid little teenager, I had a slight obsession with In Cold Blood. I don’t know exactly why I loved that book so much, but I think I appreciated how hard Capote tried to get inside the minds of murderers. During college, I read a few of Capote’s short stories, and I really liked them, so I decided to read all of his short stories.
Truman Capote was a talented writer. It sucks that he squandered his talent by drinking himself to death in his 50s. The stories in this book are highly realistic. They’re full of keen observations and a deep understanding of human behavior. He had a gift for capturing the atmosphere of a place, from the not-always-glitzy upper-class apartments of New York to poverty-stricken rural Alabama. These fictions are like little time capsules. They’re snapshots of the world as Capote saw it.
I like that the stories in this book are put in order by publication date. The first story was published in 1943. The last was published in 1982. I always like seeing how writers grow over the course of their careers. I agree with a lot of reviewers (and some fancy literary scholar people) that Capote’s Alabama stories are the best. They’re livelier than his New York tales. The Southern characters are quirkier and (sometimes) easier to love than their Northern counterparts. I can see myself rereading the Alabama stories in the future.
“This part of Alabama is swampy, with mosquitoes that could murder a buffalo, given half a chance, not to mention dangerous flying roaches and a posse of local rats big enough to haul a wagon train from here to Timbuctoo.” – The Complete Stories of Truman Capote
Obviously, I admire Capote’s work, but I do have an issue with him. Some of the stories have pretty blatant racism and ableism. I understand that the stories are a product of their time, but it’s still cringe-inducing.
I’m also not the biggest fan of the introduction that Reynolds Price (whoever he was) wrote for this book. It seems kind of harsh. If you’re about to read a big old book of stories, you don’t want an introduction that calls the stories derivative, “too easy,” and “[lacking] an emotional center.” That’s not how you sell a book, dude! I know that Capote was a teenager when he started publishing, and his early stories aren’t the best, but they’re not that bad. When I read Capote’s early work, I saw an extremely gifted young writer who was still finding his voice. All writers have to start somewhere. This book is Capote’s “complete” stories, not his greatest hits. Some of them are much better than others.
Let’s ignore Mr. Price. In my opinion, Capote excels at writing child characters. The kids in his stories are memorable little scene-stealers. All of my favorite stories in this collection involve children:
My favorite-favorite story is “Jug of Silver” (published in 1945). It’s set in the Depression era and is about a drugstore owner who fills a jug with coins as a promotion for his store. If someone can guess how much money is in the jug, they’ll win it. Two poor children come to the store every day and study the jug. The townspeople vacillate between hope and horror at this. They want the kids to win the jug, but they’re scared of how devastated the kids will be if they can’t guess the correct amount. I was just as hopeful and horrified as the townspeople. I really wanted the kids to win.
One of the Capote stories I’ve read several times before is “Miriam” (1945). This story is creepy. A woman named Miriam meets a child who is also named Miriam. Shortly after the two Miriams meet, the child shows up at the woman’s house and begins to psychologically torment her.
“Children on Their Birthdays” (1948) is one of Capote’s most well-known stories. It starts like this:
“Yesterday afternoon the six-o’clock bus ran over Miss Bobbit.” – The Complete Stories of Truman Capote
Miss Bobbit is a smart and sassy tween girl who has big business ideas and drives all the tween boys crazy. I like her huge personality. She’ll do whatever it takes to become famous.
Finally, I love Capote’s linked (and possibly autobiographical?) stories. They are “A Christmas Memory” (1956), “The Thanksgiving Visitor” (1967), and “One Christmas” (1982). These stories are about a young boy and his elderly cousin. The old woman has the mental capacity of a child, so they’re best friends and have a lot of fun together. It’s a sweet relationship.
“Small towns are best for spending Christmas, I think. They catch the mood quicker and change and come alive under its spell.” – The Complete Stories of Truman Capote
TL;DR: If you’re interested in classic American literature, you can’t ignore Truman Capote. This collection shows his impressive writing skills.