Gathering of the great American prose stylist’s earliest pieces, published for the first time.
Some of those pieces are very far from Park Avenue. In the first, a teenage Capote (Summer Crossing, 2005, etc.) serves up an odd vignette concerning a young hobo and his older, wizened friend of the road. “Ma an’ them don’t know I been bummin’ around the country for the last two years; they think I’m a traveling salesman,” the youngster says, just before the older man helps himself to a ten-spot his companion has been guarding against the day that he can wash up, buy a suit, and head home. The moment of their parting is worthy of de Maupassant. So it is, too, when Capote, Alabaman by upbringing if not inclination, turns in another Southern-fried piece, this one involving a gaggle of kids, a snakebite, and a chicken or three. “The ulcers were burning like mad from the poison,” Capote writes in a fine closing, “and she felt sick all over when she thought of what she had done.” Capote might have become another Flannery O’Connor had he stuck to his home turf, but instead he relocated to New York, and several of the later stories here reflect that change of venue. Now his characters are more urbane and decidedly more privileged: “The girl had had excellent letters from the Petite Ecole in France and the Mantone Academy in Switzerland.” Excellent letters or no, the story in question marks what will become a typical Capote ploy, a scenario of roiling jealousies and intrigue under a superficially calm cover. Another reveals Capote’s trademark strangeness, too: “It’s one thing to lose a leg,” harrumphs one character, “but it’s too much to lose an election because of someone else’s stupidity.” Amputations, petty larceny, and noblesse oblige: it’s all of a piece, and all that’s missing are the chameleons.
Students of both Capote and the short story will find this instructive and entertaining—and, if somewhat unformed still, very readable all the same.