Books with writers as characters

Have you ever noticed how often the books we read include characters who (or is it that – someone please tell me the rule!) are writers? Some are novelists, poets, journalists or podcasters. Some are based on real-life writers. Many are struggling with their careers. They’ve either made it big and are losing their touch, or they’ve written one successful book, but haven’t written a second. Still others have made it big but struggle with the fame. These characters aren’t always the main part of the story, but many are.

I wonder if I’m just drawn to this kind of book? Here’s a list of what I’ve read:

The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner – children’s author

Less by Andrew Sean Greer – struggling novelist

Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor – Emily Dickinson

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway – Ernest Hemingway (nonfiction)

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – novelist

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders – novelists/publishing house

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney – one sibling is a struggling novelist

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty – romance novelist who may be losing her touch

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin – journalist/podcaster

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – Ernest Hemingway as he writes The Sun Also Rises

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand – popular mystery writer, past her peak

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – investigative journalist

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney – struggling novelist

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin – Truman Capote

The Tenant by Katrine Engberg – mystery writer

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple – struggling graphic memoirist

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware – travel journalist

Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk – new novelist who makes it big

I’m about to start another one that will make this list: The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz. It’s a hot book this summer and my hold just came in from the library.

Do you like reading books about writers? Can you add any to this list? I may have to read them next!

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Book Review: The Early Stories of Truman Capote

The Early Stories of Truman Capote
Foreword by Hilton Als

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
In Cold Blood
“La Côte Basque”
“House of Flowers”

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Book Review: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood
by
Truman Capote

Rating:

A non-fiction novel. What is that, exactly? Many believe that the pioneer of this genre was Truman Capote. His best selling book, In Cold Blood, is a chilling depiction of a senseless murder. In a 1966 New York Times interview with George Plimpton, Capote explains his decision to write a book about the brutal 1959 murder of a Kansas family:

The motivating factor in my choice of material—that is, choosing to write a true account of an actual murder case—was altogether literary. The decision was based on a theory I’ve harbored since I first began to write professionally, which is well over 20 years ago. It seemed to me that journalism, reportage, could be forced to yield a serious new art form: the ‘nonfiction novel,’ as I thought of it.

The result was In Cold Blood. Published in 1966, it became an instant success and is considered Capote’s masterpiece.

On November 14, 1959, Herb Clutter, his wife, Bonnie and their two teenage children, Nancy and Kenyon, were brutally murdered in their Holcomb, Kansas home. Their killers, Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, were two ex-cons looking for fast cash. They’d heard that the Clutters had a safe full of money and drove over 400 miles across the state to rob the family. When they discovered there was no safe, and very little cash, the two men killed the Clutters in a rage.

I was curious about this book, but I had avoided it for many years. I don’t like reading violent crime stories, but as a Capote fan, I knew I had to read it. While the story is about the crime and the investigation, it is equal parts a picture of a small middle-American farming town and a psychological study of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. While I had no sympathy for these men, I was fascinated with their back stories. Hickcock’s insistence on robbing the Clutters, along with Smith’s unpredictable reactions to people and situations led to killings that may not have happened on a different day.

Capote and his childhood friend, Harper Lee, went to Kansas to research the story and compiled over 8000 pages of notes. They were granted numerous interviews with Hickock and Smith, who by then, had confessed and were in jail awaiting trial. They moved to death row after their convictions, where Capote continued to interview them until their hangings. He became particularly attached to Perry Smith and related to his unhappy childhood.

In Cold Blood was first published as a four-part serial in The New Yorker in 1965. It was published in book form the following year. How Capote organized this vast amount of information and assembled the story is extraordinary.

Capote made a lot of friends in Kansas, but he also made some enemies. He was particularly close to the lead investigator, Alvin Dewey, but Duane West, a prosecuting attorney, hated Capote. West called the book “garbage” (but he didn’t read it) and claimed that it wasn’t factual. He said that Capote made Dewey into a hero, when the real hero was a man named Rohleder, who captured important evidence in his photographs. Some townspeople felt they were not accurately portrayed and others have criticized the account as being inaccurate. My sense is that there were a lot of big egos in town and readers need to decide for themselves.

What is definitely true is that Capote’s writing is excellent, as I expected. And as a side note, this book isn’t nearly as violent as current true crimes and thrillers. Have you read In Cold Blood? What did you think?

For more Truman Capote, visit these links:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
“House of Flowers”
“La Côte Basque”
Who’s That Author? Truman Capote
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

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“La Côte Basque” by Truman Capote

“La Côte Basque”
from Answered Prayers
by
Truman Capote

Is it enough to change the names of your characters when you write a story based on real people? I suppose it doesn’t matter much if your characters are cast in a good light. But what if the story is full of scandals very close to the truth? I guess writers must pay the price. And that’s what happened in 1975 when “La Côte Basque” was published in Esquire.

Capote had been a favorite among the upper class society ladies until this point, but they immediately dropped him when they read about themselves in his story. Capote had been their confidante for years and had gathered plenty of material. One of the women reportedly received an early copy and, when she read what he said about her, ended her life with a cyanide pill.

The story is about a gossipy conversation between the fictional Lady Ina Coolbirth (Slim Keith) and her lunch companion, Jonesy. They are seated to be seen at La Côte Basque, a restaurant on East 55th Street in New York. As various social legends arrive, Lady Ina makes catty remarks and shares sordid details about the people who move in her circles. One of the stories closely resembles the facts and the cover-up of the William Woodward murder case in which Ann Woodward shot her husband. Capote’s story culminates when Lady Ina tells Jonesy about the night Sidney Dillon (really CBS founder Bill Paley), a notorious womanizer, slept with the governor’s wife. Paley’s wife, Babe, was dying of cancer when the story was published. Horrified to read the details in print, she never spoke to Capote again.

I had not heard of this short story, which is part of Capote’s unfinished novel, Answered Prayers, until I read The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin. Now that I know the back story, I have to agree, it’s pretty harsh. Capote is a talented writer and an interesting figure, but “La Côte Basque” seems like malicious payback for not being one of upper class.

For more about Capote and “La Côte Basque,” check out this November 2012 article in Vanity Fair and click here for a mini biography of Capote.

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Who’s That Author? Truman Capote

Truman Capote/Image: Wikipedia

Which Truman Capote do you know? The author who wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood? The life of the party and confidante of New York socialites? The host of the famous 1966 Black and White Ball in New York? The frequent guest on The Dick Cavett Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and The Mike Douglas Show? He was all of these.

Truman Capote (1924 – 1984) was an American author who wrote fiction, nonfiction and plays. Capote had a big personality and loved to mingle and gossip with high society. A flamboyant dresser with eccentric taste, Capote was open about his homosexuality. He was also a serious writer, dedicated to his craft.

Capote was born in New Orleans. His father was a con-man and his parents separated when he was a toddler. He spent his early years with relatives in Alabama, where he became childhood friends with Harper Lee. When Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, she based the character, Dill, on Capote. Friends for life, Lee would later help him with his research for In Cold Blood.

Capote’s mother remarried in 1933, moved to New York, and Capote joined them. Even with his mother in New York, he felt lonely and abandoned and spent much of his time inventing stories, knowing for certain he would become a writer.

As an adult in New York, Capote worked for the New Yorker and wrote several stories for Harper’s Bazaar and Mademoiselle. His first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, was published in 1948 and is a semi-autobiographical account of coming to terms with his sexuality.

In Cold Blood, the story of a Kansas family murdered in 1959, won critical acclaim and marked the peak of Capote’s success. It was at this point when he began a life of excess, much of which is documented on his talk show appearances. Capote died at age fifty-nine, leaving behind a great collection of work for modern readers to study.


Selected other works by Truman Capote:
The Grass Harp (1951)
A Christmas Memory (1966)
House of Flowers (1968)
Answered Prayers: the Unfinished Novel (1987)


Check out these memorable talk show appearances!
Truman Capote on Dick Cavett in 1971, with Groucho Marx Part 1
Truman Capote on Dick Cavett in 1971, with Groucho Marx Part 2


Thanks to the following sources:
Encyclopedia of Alabama
Truman Capote on imdb.com
Wikipedia


The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin is an excellent fictionalized account of Capote and his famous socialite swans.

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The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

The Swans of Fifth Avenue
by
Melanie Benjamin

Rating:

Someone should have warned the elegant and famously wealthy socialites of New York not to reveal their deepest secrets to the famous author and scandal-loving gossiper, Truman Capote! Years earlier, Capote had been welcomed into their fold and became their treasured confidante. The result was a story that shook high society and ended close friendships. “La Côte Basque 1965” was published in 1975 by Esquire magazine as a preview chapter of Answered Prayers, Capote’s last and unfinished novel. Capote had been gathering material for years about this social set and in it, he held nothing back.

Truman Capote/Image: Wikipedia

The Swans of Fifth Avenue is the fictionalized account of Capote’s friendship with six women, Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Pamela Harriman, Marella Agnelli, Gloria Guinness and CZ Guest. Capote arrived on the New York social scene in the fifties and became fast friends with these ladies, especially Babe Paley, who was married to CBS founder, Bill Paley. High society did not know what to think of Capote’s unusual and flamboyant style, but they took to him because he was so much fun. And the husbands didn’t mind because his homosexuality made him a safe companion. But, although Capote was often the life of the party, he was also a well-respected author of short fiction and several novels, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s. His masterpiece, In Cold Blood, was still to come.

The women were known as Capote’s swans, and spent their days shopping, having luncheons, attending galas and retreating to vacation homes. Wherever they went, they were impeccably dressed and ready to be photographed at any angle. Many of the swans, especially Babe, considered it their jobs to look perfect. It was serious business being a trophy wife: the women had no earning power other than being bred to marry a rich husband.

Babe Paley/Image: Wikipedia

In particular, Benjamin portrays Babe as a lonely and insecure woman, whose husband, a notorious womanizer, valued her beauty, but only as a means to elevate his status. Separate bedrooms underscored their lack of intimacy and, desperate for his affection, Babe was intent on being perfect and creating the perfect home. She left no detail to chance, anticipating her husband’s every need, even when he hardly noticed. For Babe, Truman came at the right time, filling a painful void.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue is a highly entertaining account of a period of time in New York that hit its peak just as Capote did. And as Capote began his slide into alcohol and drug abuse, the swans became matrons and had to move aside for a new generation. Benjamin feeds the reader’s need to admire the fashion and lifestyles of the super wealthy, while also showing its emptiness and sadness. Marriage is never till death do us part, and while Babe stays married to Bill, the other swans have affairs, marry, and divorce several times over.

Of course, the swans spent money like no one else and so the question is: how much can the average reader feel sorry for them? They certainly enjoyed the power and attention that their status gave them and the many pictures from the society pages suggest they knew exactly what they were doing, even Babe.

In addition, Benjamin presents a fascinating portrait of Truman Capote and his distinct sides, as both pet and confidante as well as a serious writer. I highly recommend The Swans of Fifth Avenue to readers who enjoy character studies and stories about the New York upper class.

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Top 5 posts in 2016

Truman Capote    writersworkshop.uiowa.edu 

Truman Capote, Charles Baxter, and Ethan Canin

Mary Gaitskill  Richard Bausch - from richardbausch.com

Mary Gaitskill and Richard Bausch


As a book blogger, you never know what posts are going to get a lot of views.  I don’t think about it too much, but it is fun to visit the stats page and see what people are reading.  Surprisingly, my top posts this year were all reviews of short fiction, not books!

  1. “House of Flowers” by Truman Capote
  2. “Gryphon” by Charles Baxter
  3. “The Year of Getting to Know Us” by Ethan Canin
  4. “The Girl on the Plane” by Mary Gaitskill
  5. “The Man Who Knew Belle Starr” by Richard Bausch

I love short fiction as much as books and all five authors have written novels as well.  Check out their Amazon pages here:

Truman Capote
Charles Baxter
Ethan Canin
Mary Gaitskill
Richard Bausch

I hope you all have a safe and Happy New Year!

img_1700

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A re-blog of Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Hi Everyone,

I’m almost finished reading The Inquisitor’s Mark, by Dianne Salerni.  It’s an excellent read and I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next!  This is the second book in a great Young Adult series.  Should be finished by tomorrow…

InquisitorsMark_revised_final

In the meantime, my Facebook Book Group and I have been having a great time talking about Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote.  Here’s my post from a few months ago.  I think Truman Capote was an excellent writer and quite a personality.  It’s very interesting to see the differences between the book and the movie.  And his interviews with David Frost and Dick Cavett are very entertaining!

What’s Holly Golightly really like?

Breakfast at Tiffany's book cover

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
by Truman Capote
Rating:
4 book marks

It’s impossible not to think about Audrey Hepburn when you meet the real Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote. It’s been awhile since I watched the movie, which stars Hepburn, George Peppard and Patricia Neal. George Axelrod wrote the screenplay and the movie was directed by Blake Edwards. It’s so easy to picture Hepburn in that apartment, to hear her voice and remember her sophisticated clothes. Oh to be able to carry yourself like that…

But after a few pages, despite an accurate dialogue, I realized that Capote’s Holly is a much different and younger character and that the movie glosses over some things, embellishes others, adds a plot line and changes the ending! I’ve always remembered loving the movie, but the book is much better.

This novella, a little over one hundred pages, is really a character sketch of Holly. The narrator is Holly’s neighbor, unnamed in the book, a writer who befriends her and a few years later, tries to guess what has become of her.

And she is a girl, nineteen years old, a run-away from a sad past, who makes her money entertaining men. And she makes more money on the side visiting a Mafia boss in prison and delivering coded messages that help run a drug cartel.

I remember the movie being rather light and romantic and thinking that Holly has it all together, despite her crazy life. Her source of income is barely explained in the movie, and although Holly jokes in the book about being paid for her “trips to the powder room,” there’s a deeper sadness in her and a roughness just below the surface that makes a much more complex character.

The narrator has a platonic relationship with Holly and Capote raises the question of all the characters’ sexuality throughout the story. Other characters remind me a little bit of aimless members of an earlier lost generation: Mag Wildwood, Rusty Trawler, and José Jbarra-Jaegar are examples of people who come into Holly’s life, become seemingly entrenched, and then disappear.

The themes of ownership, belonging and loss also run through the story. People connect and disconnect and Holly seems to not care, but suffers the most. She copes by developing superficial relationships and laying down shallow roots. Holly’s empty apartment and an unnamed cat are good examples of a life that is only semi-permanent. And when Doc Golightly shows up, she tries to explain away her childhood marriage and what their relationship means. “Doc really loves me, you know. And I love him. He may have looked old and tacky to you. But you don’t know the sweetness of him, the confidence he can give to birds and brats and fragile things like that. Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.”

Everything changes when Holly learns about her brother, Fred, and we realize that Fred is the one person Holly has been clinging to the most. And when her business arrangement with Sally Tomato at Sing Sing falls apart, Capote leaves us wondering what Holly will do, or what will happen to her.

If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I’ll keep the ending out of my review. But I do think the different ending in the book is much better, and truer to Holly’s character.

On a minor note, I was glad to see that Mr. Yunioshi, Holly’s Japanese neighbor, is not the crazy and inappropriate character portrayed by Mickey Rooney in the movie, a definite cringe-worthy moment. Rooney once insisted that his portrayal received positive reviews, including Chinese and Japanese fans who told him he was hilarious. But he later admitted his shame and regret in his autobiography, Life Is Too Short. There are also moments in the book, however, that reveal the racial prejudices of the times, something that jumps out when you read fiction from an earlier time.

For the record, Truman Capote was not happy with the movie version. He wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Holly, and was dissatisfied with all aspects of the film. After the film was released, Capote commented, “Holly Golightly was real-a tough character, not an Audrey Hepburn type at all. The film became a mawkish valentine to New York City and Holly, and, as a result, was thin and pretty, whereas it should have been rich and ugly. It bore as much resemblance to my work as the Rockettes do to Ulanova.” (http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/156635|0/Trivia.html)

Check out these links for more information about the book and the movie.

http://news.moviefone.com/2011/10/05/25-things-breakfast-at-tiffanys-anniversary/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breakfast_at_Tiffany%27s_%28novella%29

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“House of Flowers” by Truman Capote

Truman Capote/Image: Wikipedia

“House of Flowers”
by
Truman Capote

Rating:

“House of Flowers” is one of three pieces of short fiction included at the end of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s the story of Ottilie, a young woman from Haiti, whose only power is in deciding which life of submission she will lead, one as a prostitute or one as the wife of Royal Bonaparte, a native from the mountains. What makes this story remarkable, I think, is the double side of Ottilie’s situation. She is strong-minded and feels the power of being able to choose, but the reader sees just how dismal her options are.

Ottilie is younger and prettier than the other women at Champs Elysées, a bordello in Port au Prince, and she’s also a customer favorite. The proprietress, to protect her investment, gives Ottilie the best room with an electric light-bulb and the men buy her bangles and silks. She is happy with these new things, for she had nothing as a girl in the mountains. She laughs and gossips with her new friends, Baby and Rosita, and the bordello becomes her home.

But despite the attention from her customers, Ottilie wants love. She thinks she might love Mr. Jamison, an older American and one of her best customers. “How do you feel if you’re in love?” she asks her friends from the bordello. They tell her she will feel pepper on her heart and tiny fish swimming through her veins, but she does not understand. A voodoo priest tells her, “You must catch a wild bee and hold it in your closed hand…if the bee does not sting, then you will know you have found love.”

But the bee stings her hard and she knows she has not found love in Mr. Jamison.

It’s different when she meets Royal Bonaparte at a cockfight during carnival season. Like Ottilie, he’s from the mountains and she is drawn to this and to his beauty. She thinks she recognizes love. Capote is great at describing how she feels and it’s easy to picture her looking tentatively at Royal. “Ottilie was used to boldly smiling at men; but now her smile was fragmentary, it clung to her lips like cake crumbs.”

And when the bee does not sting her, she knows.

Royal takes her to his house of flowers, a seeming haven covered with wisteria and lilies, kept cool by its cover. But Ottilie’s new life is not easy and Royal soon returns to his old unmarried ways. And this married life includes Old Bonaparte, Royal’s spell-making grandmother, “a charred, lumpy creature” who torments Ottilie by leaving a cat’s head in her sewing basket, dead snakes and other dead creatures in the house. It’s a battle of wills and Ottilie fights back with clever revenge. When Old Bonaparte dies, Royal insists that Ottilie be tied to a tree for a day as punishment, to break the grandmother’s spell.

When Baby and Rosita come to rescue her, Ottilie must choose, but which life is better, one that promises security and friendship, but takes away much more, or one that started with love, but has turned into something else?

I liked this story because of Capote’s precise character descriptions. He explains situations by what his characters say, or don’t say, and by what they do. For example, through Rosita, he shows you how Ottilie is unable to see the house of flowers for what it is, small and unremarkable, promising nothing. Ottilie tells Baby and Rosita they need to get to a cool place and points to the house. She says, “It’s like you picked a wagon of flowers and built a house with them: that is what I think.” But Rosita sees the house differently. Instead of agreeing with Ottilie about the house, she sniffs and says only that they should get out of the sun. I think this is a terrific way of showing how communication is often subtle and hidden between the lines.

I also like how Capote gives you a glimpse of Royal’s true character and how it doesn’t come out completely until the end of the story. After Royal has dragged Ottilie out of the house, kicking and screaming and biting, he walks off to work annoyed, “sucking his hand where she had bit him.” Capote doesn’t say Royal is a jerk, he shows it in this small detail.

Ottilie chooses and the story ends, but not without the twist of a mind game, something I always love in a story. We can see she is trapped either way, but her spirit exerts some independence and rebellion. And I don’t think she feels bad or helpless about her decision.

I think this story reads a lot like a folk tale, mixing modern situations with old ways and superstitions. It seems like an experiment with style and characterization and I enjoyed reading it! House of Flowers musical

“House of Flowers” was  published in 1950.  It opened as a musical in 1954 with a cast that included Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll. Capote also wrote the play, but he made a lot of changes in the plot. Harold Aren wrote the music and the lyrics. It was Capote’s only musical and it closed after 165 performances, to poor reviews.

Click here for more information about the musical.

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany's book cover
Breakfast at Tiffany’s

by
Truman Capote

Rating:

It’s impossible not to think about Audrey Hepburn when you meet the real Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote. It’s been awhile since I watched the movie, which stars Hepburn, George Peppard and Patricia Neal. George Axelrod wrote the screenplay and the movie was directed by Blake Edwards. It’s so easy to picture Hepburn in that apartment, to hear her voice and remember her sophisticated clothes. Oh to be able to carry yourself like that…

But after a few pages, despite an accurate dialogue, I realized that Capote’s Holly is a much different and younger character and that the movie glosses over some things, embellishes others, adds a plot line and changes the ending! I’ve always remembered loving the movie, but the book is much better.

This novella, a little over one hundred pages, is really a character sketch of Holly. The narrator is Holly’s neighbor, unnamed in the book, a writer who befriends her and a few years later, tries to guess what has become of her.

And she is a girl, nineteen years old, a run-away from a sad past, who makes her money entertaining men. And she makes more money on the side visiting a Mafia boss in prison and delivering coded messages that help run a drug cartel.

I remember the movie being rather light and romantic and thinking that Holly has it all together, despite her crazy life. Her source of income is barely explained in the movie, and although Holly jokes in the book about being paid for her “trips to the powder room,” there’s a deeper sadness in her and a roughness just below the surface that makes a much more complex character.

The narrator has a platonic relationship with Holly and Capote raises the question of all the characters’ sexuality throughout the story. Other characters remind me a little bit of aimless members of an earlier lost generation: Mag Wildwood, Rusty Trawler, and José Jbarra-Jaegar are examples of people who come into Holly’s life, become seemingly entrenched, and then disappear.

The themes of ownership, belonging and loss also run through the story. People connect and disconnect and Holly seems to not care, but suffers the most. She copes by developing superficial relationships and laying down shallow roots. Holly’s empty apartment and an unnamed cat are good examples of a life that is only semi-permanent. And when Doc Golightly shows up, she tries to explain away her childhood marriage and what their relationship means. “Doc really loves me, you know. And I love him. He may have looked old and tacky to you. But you don’t know the sweetness of him, the confidence he can give to birds and brats and fragile things like that. Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.”

Everything changes when Holly learns about her brother, Fred, and we realize that Fred is the one person Holly has been clinging to the most. And when her business arrangement with Sally Tomato at Sing Sing falls apart, Capote leaves us wondering what Holly will do, or what will happen to her.

If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I’ll keep the ending out of my review. But I do think the different ending in the book is much better, and truer to Holly’s character.

On a minor note, I was glad to see that Mr. Yunioshi, Holly’s Japanese neighbor, is not the crazy and inappropriate character portrayed by Mickey Rooney in the movie, a definite cringe-worthy moment. Rooney once insisted that his portrayal received positive reviews, including Chinese and Japanese fans who told him he was hilarious. But he later admitted his shame and regret in his autobiography, Life Is Too Short. There are also moments in the book, however, that reveal the racial prejudices of the times, something that jumps out when you read fiction from an earlier time.

For the record, Truman Capote was not happy with the movie version. He wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Holly, and was dissatisfied with all aspects of the film. After the film was released, Capote commented, “Holly Golightly was real-a tough character, not an Audrey Hepburn type at all. The film became a mawkish valentine to New York City and Holly, and, as a result, was thin and pretty, whereas it should have been rich and ugly. It bore as much resemblance to my work as the Rockettes do to Ulanova.” Check out this article on tcm.com.

These links provide more information about the book and the movie:

moviefone.com article

Wikipedia

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