Thursday, December 1, 2011
Truman Capote: A Christmas Memory
Anyway, this was one of those first stories I read that made me want to become a writer. It's incredibly rich, vivid, and haunting, with a conversational, captivatingly rhythmical voice that takes you into the quiet story of the seven-year-old Capote and his much older but beloved Cousin Sook preparing for Christmas. No one can equal the mesmerizing voice of Capote, or his skill with gritty, cinematic details, and he showed that even in a book that couldn't be more different from this story--In Cold Blood.
This story is about love and innocence without the intrusion of the outside world to take away the magic of pure love and the true meaning of Christmas. And after I first read it all those years ago, I went down to the Carnegie Public Library in Wahpeton to find everything I could by this fella who could tell a story so richly and movingly. All I could find was a worn copy of Breakfast at Tiffany's, and I still remember the brow the elderly librarian lady arched at me as she stamped the book's back with the due date. I read the whole book over that Christmas vacation, and while this one was nearly as much of a departure from "A Christmas Memory" as Cold Blood was--and I doubt I really understood what was going on at that age of 12--I loved the voice and the images Capote conveyed. And deep in my heart, on an intuitive level, I think understood Holly Golightly's loneliness, her love for lost souls and animals, and her need to escape any and all tethers while at the same time needing so desperately to belong.
I didn't know until later that Truman Capote was that small, pale, ridiculous-looking man on all the talk shows during the 70's, slurring his words and wearing big womanish hats and smoking from a long, black cigarette holder. I still can't quite reconcile that man to the one who wrote "A Christmas Memory" and "A Thanksgiving Visitor"--or even Breakfast at Tiffany's, for that matter--but I do remember feeling bad for him and wondering why, in my young naive way, Dick Cavette and Johnny Carson kept having such a brilliant but obviously flawed man on their shows drunk and making a fool of himself. I just hoped, in that same naive way, that at least a fraction of the people watching had read his work and knew who he really was.
Truman Capote, long dead now, has had the last laugh. And he'll keep on having the last laugh, because his work has and will survive. Hell, I reread "A Christmas Memory" today and found even more to love about it than when I first read it nearly forty years ago. And just thinking about Dick and Perry in In Cold Blood makes me quicken my steps when walking up from my basement at night.
Troubled man, amazing writer.