In my desire to “finally read the book”, I have uncovered a literary treasure. It is such a rarity when short stories are able to leave you with an impression of depth and emotion. This particular edition contains four short stories, including the titular story. The review covers all of the stories as they each deserve individual attention.
Why did I like it so much? Truman Capote “drops” the reader into a story and introduces each character in such a manner that you feel as you have known them all your life. The language: its phrases, metaphors are so beautifully used, I wanted to drink them in to be refreshed.
I rate all of the stories 5 golden stars!
Breakfast At Tiffany’s (novella) –
‘Fred’, the narrator of the story, meets Holly Golightly soon after he moves into a brownstone house. He is intrigued by (and instantaneously attracted to) the young woman as she is everything opposite to him. He is reserved, steady and practical. She is a out-going, carefree and always trying to escape her world. He is bound by the mundane of everyday life. She is a free spirit. He is an aspiring writer. She is… well, she is an aspiring gold-digger. Thus begins their unlikely friendship.
Holly is presented as a woman who could charm any man and who loves to be the centre of attention. Her goal in life is to find a rich man and live a rich life. Wasn’t that an expectation of all women in the 1940s? (Isn’t that a lingering expectation of women even now?) However, Holly is also a contradiction to her own goal. Her philosophical discourses throughout the book show more depth to her internal world than she only shares with ‘Fred’. She constantly fights against being placed in a cage and always seeks a place to belong. “Home is where you feel at home. I’m still looking.”
The whole novella is driven by dialogue. It never gets boring. The dialogue (or most of the time, Holly’s philosophical musings) addresses many human issues and societal prejudices, such as belonging and acceptance, love and friendship, sexual orientation and status in the society. The story reveals to the reader life’s obvious contradiction – either having to live a bleak reality caged up by expectations (Holly’s gift to ‘Fred’ was a golden cage) or constantly looking for a fantasy like having breakfast at Tiffany’s. “It’s better to look at the sky than live there”.
House of Flowers -
This short story is about Ottilie, a young woman from Haiti, making the best out of the choices life presents her with. When her mother dies and her father’s gone to France, Ottilie finds herself living with a peasant family whose sons take advantage of her youth. When the family sends her to the market in Port-au-Prince with a heavy sack of grain, she ‘lightens’ her load by spilling the grain on the way. She soon realizes that she’s got no grain nor money to bring back to the peasant family. A chanced meeting with a “nice” stranger brings her to a house everyone calls “Champs-Élysées” in Port-au-Prince. there Ottilie lives a fairly comfortable life as a prostitute, spoiled by men who lavish their attention and gifts on her. Soon, she realizes that all of that is not good unless she loves someone. Enter, Royal Bonaparte, a champion cockfighter from the mountains. She follows him back to his house which ‘was like a house of flowers; wistaria sheltered the roof, a curtain of vines shaded the windows, lilies bloomed at the door.” The house of flowers might appear as an idyllic place of happily ever after, but Royal Bonaparte has a grandmother from hell. Old Bonaparte does everything to drive Ottilie out of her mind and out the house. Ottilie has a choice to run defeated back to Port-au-Prince or stand up to the haggard and, consequently, become a woman of her own and a good wife to her husband.
The style of the story is so beautiful and exotic that you could feel transported into the picturesque Haiti. The Haitian dialect seeps through the pages in terms and phrases that are used through the story. Ottilie has a choice between living a lavish life at Champs-Élysées and not belong to herself, or live a simple life at the house of flowers and be her own woman. The humour and lightness of the storyline reassures the reader that no matter what happens in life, there is a brighter side of things.
A Diamond Guitar focuses on Mr Schaeffer, a prison inmate serving a ninety-nine year sentence for murder, and Tico Feo, a newly arrived prisoner, sentenced to two years for stabbing two men. Mr Schaeffer and Tico develop a strong friendship that has undercurrent intimate feel. Tico has a young fiery personality. He constantly talks about his escape plans. Mr Schaeffer is an older character and is respected by other inmate due to his ability to read and write. He becomes inspired by Tico’s passion. On Valentine’s Day, whilst making an attempt to escape, Tico betrays Mr Schaeffer leaving him behind. Because of his reputation, Mr Schaeffer is credited for his attempt to capture Tico and as a reward receives Tico’s prized possession – a diamond guitar.
No matter how you look at it, A Diamond Guitar is a story of unrequited love. Beautifully written, it possess the feel of nostalgia and longing for something unattainable. A Diamond Guitar is a critically acclaimed story and has been studied by literary scholars for its cultural and literary merits. I couldn’t agree more.
A Christmas Memory - as the title suggests, this short story is a memory of a seven-year-old boy about one particular Christmas that he spent with his elder cousin. His cousin calls him ‘Buddy’ and he refers to his cousin as ‘my best friend’. Both Buddy, his cousin and a dog named Queenie live in the house with other relatives who are stern and authoritative. The family is poor, but during the year Buddy and his cousin would collect pennies for their Fruitcake Fund. In late November, they would collect windfall pecans and buy whiskey from a scary American Indian bootlegger, who turns out to be quite generous, and gives them whiskey in return for one of their fruitcakes. Buddy and his elderly eccentric cousin send their fruitcakes to people they have met once or twice, or whom they have never met at all, like President Roosevelt himself. After sending fruitcakes out, they begin preparations for Christmas: wrapping presents, making each other special kites and finding the best Christmas tree. This is their last Christmas together. Buddy is send to a military school to become a proper man, losing the contact with his best friend.
The story feels very autobiographical. It has a message of friendship, joy of giving and enjoying what you have and whom you have in your life. It also touches on themes of loneliness and loss. “This is our last Christmas together. Life separates us. Those who Know Best decide that I belong in a military school. […] I have a new home too. But it doesn’t count. Home is where my friend is, and there I never go.”