Category Archives: A-Z Index of Book Reviews

The Complete Stories by Truman Capote

Back in July, a couple of bloggers I follow (Ali at Heaven Ali and Lizzi at These Little Words) were reading Truman Capote’s A Capote Reader. I didn’t want to commit to reading such a big volume, but their posts did pique my interest in Capote’s short stories, hence my purchase of The Complete Stories.

This collection consists of twenty stories written between 1943 and 1982, presented in chronological order. I’m not going to try to review each story in turn, but to give a sense of the themes and a little of what I thought of the collection as a whole.

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The settings for Capote’s stories seem to fall into two main camps. Firstly, we have the stories set in the Deep South. A few of these tales feature mysterious, almost fable-like characters – in some instances a strange individual who seems to possess some unfathomable insight or supernatural power over others. In Jug of Silver, for example, a drug-store owner looks to revive interest in his flagging business with a competition to guess the total value of all the nickels and dimes stuffed into a large glass jug. The more money customers spend in the shop, the more opportunities they gain to guess the amount. When a curious boy named Appleseed arrives out of the blue exclaiming that he will count the money by sight, no one believes he can do it…

New York provides the setting for the remaining stories, and these city-based tales mostly feature lonely individuals or couples trapped in failing relationships. The situations are not straightforward, and Capote’s characters tend to be vulnerable, isolated or unhappy with the cards that life has dealt them. In Master Misery, one of my favourites from the collection, we meet Sylvia, a young woman who is clearly irritated to be living with her childhood friend Estelle and her husband:

It occurred to her then that she might walk home through the park: an act of defiance almost, for Henry and Estelle, always insistent upon their city wisdom, had said over and again, Sylvia, you have no idea how dangerous it is, walking in the park after dark; look what happened to Myrtle Calisher. This isn’t Easton, honey. That was the other thing they said. And said. God, she was sick of it. Still, and aside from a few other typists at SnugFare, an underwear company for which she worked, who else in New York did she know? Oh, it would be all right if only she did not have to live with them, if she could afford somewhere a small room of her own; but there in that chintz-cramped apartment she sometimes felt she would choke them both. (pgs 155-156, Penguin Classics)

I love that quote: Sylvia’s anger at her situation, Estelle’s patronising tone. It conveys so much about the characters and their position.

The Master Misery of the title is Mr. Revercomb, a man who buys dreams for money, stealing a tiny piece of an individual’s identity with every story. Sylvia starts selling her dreams, but as the story progresses she becomes increasingly unsettled, ultimately realising that she must reclaim what’s rightfully hers.

In Miriam, another disquieting story, a lonely woman in her sixties befriends a young girl, Miriam, on a trip to the cinema. But when Miriam arrives at the woman’s apartment expecting to move in, events take a more sinister turn.

Capote certainly knew how to structure a short story. The openings are strong and for the most part I found myself immediately pulled into the initial scene and the story itself. Here’s the opening of The Bargain in which Mrs. Chase is talking on the phone to her husband. A simple scene but effective nonetheless:

Several things about her husband irritated Mrs. Chase. For instance, his voice: he sounded always as though he were bidding in a poker game. To hear his unresponsive drawl was exasperating, especially now when, talking to him on the telephone, she herself was strident with excitement. “Of course I already have one, I know that. But you don’t understand, dear – it’s a bargain,” she said, stressing the last word, then pausing to let its magic develop. Simply silence happened. (pg.177)

Mrs. Chase is waiting to receive a visit from a woman named Alice Severn, a friend she hasn’t seen in over a year. This woman has fallen on hard times, and the ‘bargain’ in question is a mink coat she needs to sell. I won’t say any more about what happens when the two women meet, but I’ll share the final lines to illustrate how Capote ends his stories. They often finish with a shiver: a note of sadness, a melancholy tone:

Alice Severn did not thank her, and at the door she did not say goodbye. Instead, she took one of Mrs. Chase’s hands in her own and patted it, as though she were gently rewarding an animal, a dog. Closing the door, Mrs. Chase stared at her hand, brought it near her lips. The feel of the other hand was still upon it, and she stood there, waiting while it drained away: presently her hand was again quite cold. (pg 183)

Capote’s stories are very atmospheric. His prose is clean and yet he seems equally adept at capturing the tone of the Deep South and the feel of the city streets. Here’s a brief excerpt from one of the NYC-based stories showing the streets in summer:

He turned into a side street leading toward the East River; it was quite here, hushed like Sunday: a sailor-stroller munching an Eskimo Pie, energetic twins skipping rope, an old velvet lady with gardenia-white hair lifting aside lace curtains and peering listlessly into rain-dark space – a city landscape in July. (pg. 94)

Three or four of the stories towards the end of the collection seem to reflect aspects of Capote’s own childhood in Alabama. Born in New Orleans in 1924, Capote was ‘deserted by a too-young and sexually adventurous mother and a bounder of a father’ only to be raised by a collection of cousins and neighbours. (That quote comes from Reynolds Price’s introduction.) This experience appears to have left its mark on Capote as a sense of loneliness and difference, of not quite fitting in, inhabits these stories. Two of these – A Christmas Memory and Thanksgiving Visitor – are among my favourites from the collection, and both feature the relationship between a young boy, Buddy (possibly Capote) and his best friend and distant cousin, Miss Sook. Buddy’s cousin is ‘sixty-something,’ but as a result of a long illness in her youth, Miss Sook remains a child.

A Christmas Memory tells of preparations for Christmas. Miss Sook and Buddy bake fruitcakes for all those who have shown them kindness during the year; they craft homemade decorations for the tree and presents for each other from materials squirreled away during the year. In Thanksgiving Visitor, Miss Sook attempts to heal the rift between Buddy and a boy who bullies him at school. Both stories are evocative, beautifully told and poignant, A Christmas Memory especially so.

I really enjoyed Capote’s Complete Stories, and they made a welcome change between a run of deeper novels. Most of the stories were very good to excellent, although three or four in the collection drifted a little and didn’t quite manage to hold my attention. Still, that’s pretty good going for a complete set of shorts – I wouldn’t expect to click with each and every one.

The Complete Stories is published in the UK by Penguin Classics. Source: personal copy. Book 3/20 in my #TBR20.

A-Z Index of Book Reviews (listed by author)

Books Reviewed:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Pitch Dark by Renata Adler

Speedboat by Renata Adler

Ghosts by César Aira (tr. by Chris Andrews)

Topkapi – The Light of Day by Eric Ambler

You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames

The Corpse Washer by Sinan Antoon (tr. by the author)

Eve’s Hollywood by Eve Babitz 

An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge

Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker

Young Man with a Horn by Dorothy Baker 

The Incident Report by Martha Baillie

They Were Counted by Miklós Bánffy (tr. by Patrick Thursfield and Katalin Bánffy-Jelen) + an additional post on the politics

Stay Up With Me by Tom Barbash

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani (tr. by William Weaver)

Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum (tr. by Basil Creighton)

The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán (tr. by Paul O’Prey & Lucia Graves)

Rendezvous in Venice by Philippe Beaussant (tr. by Paul Buck and Catherine Petit)

A Legacy by Sybille Bedford

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin 

The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares (tr. by Ruth L.C. Simms)

Where There’s Love, There’s Hate by Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo (tr. by Suzanne Jill Levine and Jessica Ernst Powell)

The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim (tr. by Jonathan Wright)

Drowned by Therese Bohman (tr. by Marlaine Delargy)

Vertigo by Boileau-Narcejac (tr. by Geoffrey Sainsbury)

La Femme de Gilles by Madeleine Bourdouxhe (tr. by Faith Evans)

Marie by Madeleine Bourdouxhe (tr. by Faith Evans)

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

The Hotel by Elizabeth Bowen

A Start in Life by Anita Brookner

Providence by Anita Brookner

The King of a Rainy Country by Brigid Brophy

Liveforever by Andrés Caicedo (tr. by Frank Wynne)

Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

The Complete Stories by Truman Capote

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

My Antonia by Willa Cather

Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

The Long Good-bye by Raymond Chandler

Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze

In the Twilight by Anton Chekhov (tr. by Hugh Aplin)

Parfums by Philippe Claudel (tr. by Euan Cameron)

What a Carve Up! / The Winshaw Legacy by Jonathan Coe

Chéri by Colette (tr. by Roger Senhouse)

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

Zenith Hotel by Oscar Coop-Phane (tr. by Ros Schwartz)

Academy Street by Mary Costello

Bird in a Cage by Frédéric Dard (tr. by David Bellos)

Nothing Holds Back the Night by Delphine de Vigan (tr. by George Miller)

Les Belles Amours by Louise de Vilmorin (tr. by Francis Wyndham)

Madame de ___ by Louise de Vilmorin (tr. by Duff Cooper)

The Professor and the Siren by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (tr. by Stephen Twilley)

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

Run River by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion 

The Inspector Barlach Mysteries by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (tr. by Joel Agee)

The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck (tr. by Susan Bernofsky)

The Waitress Was New by Dominique Fabre (tr. by Jordan Stump)

Nagasaki by Éric Faye (tr. by Emily Boyce)

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (tr. by Ann Goldstein)

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante (tr. by Ann Goldstein)

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante (tr. by Ann Goldstein)

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante (tr. by Ann Goldstein)

Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald

Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald 

The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

Desperate Characters by Paula Fox

Things Look Different in the Light by Medardo Fraile (tr. by Margaret Jull Costa)

Back to Back by Julia Franck (tr. by Anthea Bell)

Tristana by Benito Pérez Galdós (tr. by Margaret Jull Costa)

Moon in a Dead Eye by Pascal Garnier (tr. by Emily Boyce)

The Front Seat Passenger by Pascal Garnier (tr. by Jane Aitken)

An Evening with Claire by Gaito Gazdanov (tr. by Jodi Daynard)

All the Days and Nights by Niven Govinden

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

Schlump by Hans Herbert Grimm (tr. by Jamie Bulloch)

Under the Tripoli Sky by Kamal Ben Hameda (tr. by Adriana Hunter)

Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton

The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton

The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley

Benediction by Kent Haruf

Affections by Rodrigo Hasbún (tr. by Sophie Hughes)

In Love by Alfred Hayes

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

This Should be Written in the Present Tense by Helle Helle (tr. by Martin Aitken)

Carol / The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

The Very Dead of Winter by Mary Hocking 

Anderby Wold by Winifred Holtby

Maybe This Time by Alois Hotschnig (tr. by Tess Lewis)

The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes

Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue (tr. by Michael Emmerich)

The Hunting Gun by Yasushi Inoue (tr. by Michael Emmerich)

Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood

Mr Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood 

The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov (tr. by Andrew Bromfield)

Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata (tr. by Howard S. Hibbert)

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami (tr. by Allison Markin Powell)

A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard (tr. by Don Bartlett)

A Man in Love (My Struggle: Book 2) by Karl Ove Knausgaard (tr. by Don Bartlett)

Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything by Daniela Krien (tr. by Jamie Bulloch)

The Adventures of Sindbad by Gyula Krúdy (tr. by George Szirtes)

Nada by Carmen Laforet (tr. by Edith Grossman)

A Girl in Winter by Philip Larkin

Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard

Mona Lisa by Alexander Lernet-Holenia (tr. by Ignat Avsey)

Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector (tr. by Alison Entrekin)

Ten by Andrej Longo (tr. by Howard Curtis)

Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli (tr. by Christina MacSweeney)

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

The Drowning Pool (Lew Archer book 2) by Ross Macdonald

The Way Some People Die (Lew Archer book 3) by Ross Macdonald

The Ivory Grin (Lew Archer book 4) by Ross Macdonald 

Find a Victim (Lew Archer book 5) by Ross Macdonald 

Of Love and Hunger by Julian Maclaren-Ross

Brief Loves That Live Forever by Andreï Makine (tr. by Geoffrey Strachan)

Game for Five by Marco Malvaldi (tr. by Howard Curtis)

The Art of Killing Well by Marco Malvaldi (tr. by Howard Curtis)

School for Love by Olivia Manning 

The Doves of Venus by Olivia Manning

Escape by Dominique Manotti (tr. by Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz)

A Heart So White by Javier Marías (tr. by Margaret Jull Costa)

All Souls by Javier Marías (tr. by Margaret Jull Costa)

The Infatuations by Javier Marías (tr. by Margaret Jull Costa)

The Man of Feeling by Javier Marías (tr. by Margaret Jull Costa)

Clock Without Hands by Carson McCullers

Testing the Current by William McPherson

A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli (tr. by Sam Taylor)

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

Villa Triste by Patrick Modiano (tr. by John Cullen)

Agostino by Alberto Moravia (tr. by Michael F. Moore)

Divertimento 1889 by Guido Morselli (tr. by Hugh Shankland)

The Things We Don’t Do by Andrés Neuman (tr. by N Caistor & L Garcia)

A Way of Life, Like Any Other by Darcy O’Brien

Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo (tr. by Daniel Balderston)

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa (tr. by Stephen Snyder)

Butterflies in November by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir (tr. by Brian FitzGibbon)

White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen (tr. by Emily & Fleur Jeremiah)

The Blue Room by Hanne Ørstavik (tr. by Deborah Dawkin)

— 

One Fine Day by Mollie-Panter-Downes

Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman

Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym 

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (tr. by Brian Murdoch)

Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa (tr. by Chris Andrews)

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie by Jean Rhys

The Left Bank and Other Stories by Jean Rhys

Tigers Are Better-Looking by Jean Rhys

Voyage in the Dark by Jean Rhys

The Tunnel by Ernesto Sábato (tr. by Margaret Sayers Peden)

The Secret in Their Eyes by Eduardo Sacheri (tr. by John Cullen)

A Certain Smile by Françoise Sagan  (tr. by Irene Ash)

Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan (tr. by Heather Lloyd) + additional thoughts on the translation

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter 

Last Night by James Salter

Equal Danger by Leonardo Sciascia (tr. by Adrienne Foulke)

The Wine-Dark Sea by Leonardo Sciascia (tr. by Avril Bardoni)

Vienna Tales (short story anthology) – Schnitzler, Stifter, Roth, and more (tr. by Deborah Holmes)

Transit by Anna Seghers (tr. by Margo Bettauer Dembo)

Red Lights by Georges Simenon (tr. by Norman Denny)

The Widow by Georges Simenon (tr. by John Petrie)

Three Bedrooms in Manhattan by Georges Simenon (tr. by Marc Romano and Lawrence G Blochman

How to be both by Ali Smith

The Gate by Natsume Söseki (tr. by William F. Sibley)

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark

The Sorrow of Angels by Jón Kalman Stefánsson (tr. by Philip Roughton)

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Love in a Bottle by Antal Szerb (tr. by Len Rix)

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor 

At Mrs Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor 

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor

The Soul of Kindness by Elizabeth Taylor

Rasputin and Other Ironies by Teffi (tr. by Robert & Elizabeth Chandler, Rose France and Anne Marie Jackson)

Subtly Worded by Teffi (tr. by Anne Marie Jackson)

High Rising by Angela Thirkell

The Grifters by Jim Thompson 

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín (1) – Nora

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín (2) – life in a small town in Ireland

Christmas at Thompson Hall & Other Christmas Stories by Anthony Trollope 

The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke (tr. by Jamie Bulloch)

Spring Night by Tarjei Vesaas (tr. by Elizabeth Rokkan)

Bartleby & Co. by Enrique Vila-Matas (tr. by Jonathan Dunne)

Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas (tr. by Anne McLean)

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

My First Wife by Jakob Wassermann (tr. by Michael Hofmann)

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams

Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Disturbing the Peace by Richard Yates

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates

The Easter Parade by Richard Yates 

Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig (tr. by Anthea Bell)

Burning Secret by Stefan Zweig (tr. by Anthea Bell)