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The Complete Stories of Truman Capote

by Truman Capote

In this month of short story festivals and prizes we bring you a master of the genre - Truman Capote. THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES is arranged chronologically from the early 1940s to 1982, two years before the author’s death.

Those of you who saw the bio-pic CAPOTE, which centred on the author’s best-selling book IN COLD BLOOD, would have observed a quick-witted, manipulative character, unfairly jealous of his great friend Harper Lee when her book TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD became a huge success. But Philip Seymour Hoffman’s brilliant portrayal of Capote also showed the generous and caring side of the author that shines through in many of his short stories. Capote was left in the care of a large household of cousins after his mother and father separated. Among those was his beloved elderly cousin Sook who provided the warmth and affection that the young Capote craved, and would crave all his life.

In my favourite of the early stories, ‘A Christmas Memory’, he describes Sook; “Her face is remarkable – not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid”. Who could not be endeared to Sook as she declares when looking out the window “Oh my, it’s fruitcake weather!” She then enlists the help of the seven-year-old boy to help her with the annual baking of thirty fruitcakes to be given as Christmas gifts – a custom that was practiced in my own family by my father so this was very poignant for me. ‘The Thanksgiving Visitor’, which also features Sook and which also centres round a family occasion, is especially touching in which the boy learns a lesson in humility – not a trait that he carried into his later adult life.

It is the early stories (some written when he was as young as nineteen) that I find most affecting and reminiscent of Carson McCullers, that other great American writer of genteel, quiet, family living. Other topics deal with success, wealth and greed (especially that of women) and some, such as ‘Miriam’, are downright spooky. I find Capote’s elegant, pared-down, style irresistible (I read this entire collection in one sitting) so if you’re thinking of entering and haven’t already sent your story to the Asham Award, read this collection for guidance on how it should be done!

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