The early fiction of one of the nation’s most celebrated writers, Truman Capote, as he takes his first bold steps into the canon of American literature
Recently rediscovered in the archives of the New York Public Library, these short stories provide an unparalleled look at Truman Capote writing in his teens and early twenties, before he penned such classics as Other Voices, Other Rooms, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and In Cold Blood. This collection of more than a dozen pieces showcases the young Capote developing the unique voice and sensibility that would make him one of the twentieth century’s most original writers.
Spare yet heartfelt, these stories summon our compassion and feeling at every turn. Capote was always drawn to outsiders—women, children, African Americans, the poor—because he felt like one himself from a very early age. Here we see Capote’s powers of empathy developing as he depicts his characters struggling at the margins of their known worlds. A boy experiences the violence of adulthood when he pursues an escaped convict into the woods. Petty jealousies lead to a life-altering event for a popular girl at Miss Burke’s Academy for Young Ladies. In a time of extraordinary loss, a woman fights to save the life of a child who has her lover’s eyes.
In these stories we see early signs of Capote’s genius for creating unforgettable characters built of complexity and yearning. Young women experience the joys and pains of new love. Urbane sophisticates are worn down by cynicism. Children and adults alike seek understanding in a treacherous world. There are tales of crime and violence; of racism and injustice; of poverty and despair. And there are tales of generosity and tenderness; compassion and connection; wit and wonder. Above all there is the developing voice of a writer born in the Deep South who will use and eventually break from that tradition to become a literary figure like no other.
With a foreword by the celebrated New Yorker critic Hilton Als, this volume of early stories is essential for understanding how a boy from Monroeville, Alabama, became a legend in American literature.
Praise for The Early Stories of Truman Capote
“Succeeds at conveying the writer’s youthful rawness . . . These stories capture a moment when Capote was hungry to capture the rural South, the big city, and the subtle emotions that so many around him were determined to keep unspoken.”—USA Today
“A window on the young writer’s emerging voice and creativity . . . Capote’s ability to conjure a time, place and mood with just a few sentences is remarkable.”—Associated Press
This volume collects 14 tales that Capote wrote during his teens and 20s; most of them are set in his native South, and most are previously unpublished. At their underwhelming best, they reveal his adept ear for Southern vernacular and make a good attempt at atmosphere, though suffering from adjectival overkill. Early on, Capote's imagination conjured Southern gothic dramas. An escaped convict with "cold, calculating, insane eyes" pleads for help in "The Moth in the Flame." "Miss Belle Rankin," considered "a witch," is a starving old woman who dies under a japonica tree she refused to sell. The stories are earnest but predictable efforts. And though Capote was adept at posing imaginative scenarios, he seems incapable of producing satisfying endings. Thin characterization and inept narrative development in "Swamp Terror" (two boys get lost in a swamp while an escaped convict is on the loose) and in "Kindred Spirits" (two society matrons plan murder) mark them as puerile efforts. "If I Forget You," a sentimental story about a girl in love with a man who is leaving town is a vignette without depth, and another, "This Is in Jamie," a would-be tearjerker in which a little boy receives the dog he desires from a dead child's father, falls flat. "Traffic West" is a facile version of the novella The Bridge of San Luis Rey, a story popular during Capote's youth. These stories will be of interest mainly as a budding writer's efforts to master the techniques of his craft.