The Early Stories of Truman Capote
Foreword by Hilton Als
I enjoyed reading this excellent collection of fourteen stories by Truman Capote. Written when he was in his teens and early twenties, these stories show Capote’s impressive ability to create scenes and original characters and evoke compassion at the earliest stage of his writing.
The collection was published in 2015 after a discovery in the archives of the New York Public Library. An equally excellent Foreward by Hilton Als of The New Yorker points out how Capote was already experimenting with different styles and methods. Some of the stories depict the Deep South where Capote was born, and others take place in New York, where he also lived as a boy. In them, he addresses many everyday issues, including family, relationships, small-town dynamics and the more sophisticated urban life in New York. And in his wide range of characters, both young and old, he portrays the more complex elements of poverty, race and fate, as well as selfish and vindictive human behavior. In his Foreward, Al writes about a universal yearning in these stories and I see that clearly.
I haven’t read everything Truman Capote wrote (see my links at the bottom of this post), but I have read the big ones (In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and a couple other short stories. I have always been struck by his descriptive style, which has the unique ability to lift me out of the actual world and right into a lyrical yet raw place. I think this skill is already coming through in these early stories.
There’s a great quote by David Ebershoff of Random House in the book’s Afterward. If you’ve ever watched one of Capote’s talk show appearances (here, here and here) or read about and seen images of his Black and White Ball in 1966 (read about that here), you might have an idea of what Capote was like. But if you put aside his gossipy side, discount his drunken appearances, and you really listen to him when he talks about the writing craft, you’ll see that he was indeed deeply serious about writing. I think this collection gives you a good picture of that intensity before he was sidetracked. Ebershoff writes:
“These early stories offer a counterpoint to that final image: a young writer laboring over his typewriter to maximize his gifts. A Truman Capote not slurring on a television talk show but driven to nail the right word on the page.”
I highly recommend this book. It’s a quick read, but the stories stay with you and give you a good look at an emerging writer who became a legend.
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