Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

41aPJUef+UL._SL500_SS500_Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Having loved In Cold Blood – a tragic story, beautifully written – so much, as well as Truman Capote’s short story, A Christmas Memory, I wanted to read more of his work.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a “novella” and thus a quick read.  I know it’s a classic, but after reading it, I’m not sure I get what all the hoopla is (was?) about?  Or maybe it was more about the movie – which I’ve never seen, but gather from different online sources that it differs quite a bit from the book?  I don’t know.

The story is narrated by a struggling writer, whose name we never learn.  He lives one floor up from protagonist Holly Golightly in an old brownstone in New York City during WWII.  his first encounter with her occurs when she comes in through his bedroom window one night via the fire escape in order to elude a violent lover upstairs.  From there, Holly and the unnamed narrator (whom she calls Fred, though that is not his name) forge a somewhat strange, year-long friendship which includes both mundane and melodramatic events.  He’s clearly at least a little bit in love with Holly, but their relationship remains platonic, though strangely intimate, and Holly is known for her promiscuity.  The relationship comes to a dramatic end when Holly is busted for her involvement in a drug trafficking operation but manages to jump bail when she’s hospitalized for a miscarriage.

I didn’t find Holly to be an especially likable character.  A child bride, she runs away from her much older husband and his children when she’s only 14.  At the time the story takes place, she’s 19, so has been making her way in the world for a few years.  Her first stop was Hollywood where she made a half-hearted attempt at breaking into movie stardom, and from there she made her way to NYC, where it isn’t clear how she makes her living – she might or might not be a prostitute.  She has an eclectic collection of colorful friends, throws wild parties, and doesn’t care what anyone thinks.  She’s also prone to depression and racism.  I honestly found her annoying and tiresome.

Capote’s gift for writing is clear here, but I wasn’t crazy about the story.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

On a cold November night in 1959, two men intent on robbery committed a most heinous crime: they stealthily entered the home of the Clutters, a well-to-do family living on an isolated, prosperous farm, and slaughtered the family in cold blood – all for roughly forty dollars and change.  The senseless murders of this well-liked family rocked the community, and for seven weeks, the folks in this rural Kansas town lived in fear and suspicion of one another, convinced that the killer or killers had to be someone among them.

Within days of the Clutter family funerals, young Truman Capote travelled to Holcomb after having read a brief newspaper account of the slayings.  He wanted to look into the story himself, thinking it might provide material for a non-fiction endeavor.  He ended up staying for a long period of time, becoming intimately acquainted with the town and its citizens, and undertaking extensive interviews and research (with the help of his close friend, Harper Lee).  What resulted is this non-fiction masterpiece which earned Capote fame and fortune.

I was very reluctant to read this book, the latest choice of my book club, as I gave up true crime when I started having kids; reading about real-life horrific acts committed on people by other people began to turn my stomach and give me nightmares.  I am, however, glad I read this, and I actually had a hard time putting it down (at least during daylight hours!)

While the crime itself is recounted in chilling detail, what is most disturbing is the apparent randomness of the crime, and the far-reaching repercussions.  And while the slaughter of an innocent, prominent family was tragic, what was equally tragic was becoming acquainted with the killers.  The question of whether certain people are born monsters or made monsters by circumstance is unavoidable, and despite feeling revulsion for the terrible crime committed, I couldn’t help but feel extreme pity for the killers – especially Smith, whose entire life from birth was marked by brutality and neglect.

I’d never read anything by Capote before this, and what a beautiful writer he was.  After finishing In Cold Blood, I read his short story, A Christmas Memory, and his gift with prose is just as apparent in that.  I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.