Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Three Stories by Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (A Short Novel and Three Stories), Truman Capote, Modern Library, 1958

“She isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes.”

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

2 Stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Book – Breakfast at Tiffany’s (A Short Novel and Three Stories)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is actually Truman Capote’s collection of one novella and three short stories. As such, the book should be rated for all tales included, which were underwhelming. Over the years, I’ve lost my tolerance for pretentious writing, and despite Capote’s earthiness, never once did I shake that feeling of pretentiousness.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Here, a young writer looks back on the year or so when he lived near and loved a girl named Holly Golightly. Holly’s a beauty who runs around with wealthy men so they can take proper care of her.

The unnamed narrator whom Holly refers to as “Fred” (that’s her brother’s name, so Holly has clearly defined what kind of relationship they have, whatever his ambiguous sexuality may be) admits to loving Holly numerous times, but it’s not so much an erotic love as one filled with worship. “Fred” thinks to himself: “As I read each glimpse I stole of Holly made my heart contract.” Holly bathes naked in front of him, calls him “Maude” (I suppose “Nellie” would have been rude?). and the narrator readily admits to having been in love with women, men, and once an entire family. Here everyone’s sexuality is fluid; it’s all a matter of price.

On to the story. Really, there’s very little of it. Holly gets paid for her company, wears sunglasses indoors, and speaks French to impress. The players include an array of millionaires, models, wealthy diplomats, and mobsters. What a bunch of poser and phonies they all are. Oh, but Holly is a special type of phony, as one character says: “She isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes.”

Holly Golightly is the forbear of the women of reality TV, fake, pretentious, and avaricious. She’s a good-time girl who insinuates she might dole out intimate favors for some cash, but most of the time pats her man on the cheek with a platonic “Goodnight, darling.” Capote himself wrote that Holly was “a modern-day Geisha.” No need to wrap it up in fancy euphemisms. I’d prefer a “prostitute” who’s honest with herself about who she is and what she does. Contrary to what Capote wrote, Holly is never honest with herself.

I don’t care if Hollywood toned down the story and made it into a sappy romance; at least that movie was charming.

Also, there’s a lot of rough talk that could be viewed in the modern perspective as hateful and loathsome. I can imagine shocked readers of “The New Yorker” (where the novella was originally published) being titillated by the sexual and racial references. I personally do not view 60-year-old works through a modern lens so I didn’t give a crap. The vulgar flavor bored me. Overlook the vulgarity and there’s not much else there.

2.5 stars, but I’ll be generous and add an extra half star for Cat who’s the best character in the whole novella and deserved better than that phony’s phony, Holly Golightly.

House of Flowers

This was notable for its Haitian setting, but not much else. A beautiful prostitute in Port-Au-Prince named Ottilie ditches her lifestyle after she meets her “one true love,” a handsome country boy. Capote really had an obsession with “hookers” didn’t he?

Ottilie moves in with him and his mother, who watches them have sex at night, brings Ottilie little gifts like a severed cat’s head in a box. Ottilie pays her mother-in-law back by serving those gifts as meals until mom-in-law suddenly drops dead.

The ending is odd because you don’t know if the mother’s ghost gets her revenge or if everybody in this story is mentally deranged.

Either way, 2 stars.

A Diamond Guitar

The most pointless tale in a book filled with pointless tales. An old man spending life in prison for murder laments the loss of his one true friend: a young, blond Cuban boy who was allowed to enter prison with diamond guitar. Mr. Schaeffer, the protagonist, is a decent enough sort–for a murderer—while the boy, Tico Feo, just uses his looks to get the old guy to do his bidding and fall for him. “Except that they did not combine their bodies or think to do so, though such things were not unknown at the farm, they were as lovers.

Tico Feo convinces Mr. Schaeffer to try to escape. Tico Feo gets away, but the old man doesn’t. He spends his remaining years caring for the guitar and feeling lots of pain and yearning.

Oh, the pain…and the yearning…the yearning…

Some yearn, others constantly crave.

1 star for this dud.

A Christmas Memory

This was just as plotless as all the other stories, but at least it’s the sweetest.

A 7-year-old boy bonds with his elderly cousin whom he refers to as his friend. Every Christmas, they make an elaborate fruit cake they send to only special recipients, like the President, or some missionaries, or a nice couple whose car once broke down near their home. Though they are very poor they work hard to make 30 exotic fruit cakes. They collect fallen pecans; kill flies for cash, barter with illegal alcohol vendors. Their time spent together is a magical one. Then the young boy is sent off to military school and the halcyon days come to an end.

3 stars just because it was so sweet.

Final Opinion

I found this compilation of short stories to be unimpressive. I understand modern literary writers are fond of character studies, not plot-driven tales, but if the characters are uninteresting then who cares? I didn’t.

I’m making myself read more literature, modern and classic, but this short anthology did not make me gaga for Capote. I’m hoping In Cold Blood is a better reflection of his talent.

2 stars overall for the entire collection.

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