cover image The Early Stories of Truman Capote

The Early Stories of Truman Capote

Truman Capote. Random, $25 (192p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9822-1

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14 tales that Capote wrote during his teens and 20s; most of them are set in his native South, and most are previously unpublished.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. (Oct.)