Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, April 22, 2011

"Mariam" and "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote

Who looks more uncomfortable,
Marilyn Monroe or Truman Capote?
"Mariam" (6 pages, 1945) and "A Christmas Memory" (1956, 7 pages) by Truman Capote

Two Famous Truman Capote Short Stories

Truman Capote (1924 to 1966-New Orleans USA) is by far most famous for his In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany's.    I have never read any of his work before  yesterday when I read two of his short stories.   Capote was also very good friends with Harper Lee (they were next door neighbors when Capote was young), author of To Kill a Mockingbird.   Capote was also a public figure with many "jet set friends". (Wikipedia has an interesting article on Capote).   

"Mariam" originally appeared in Mademoiselle in 1945.   It won the O'Henry Prize for best American short story of the year.   (You can read it online HERE.)    The central character in this story, Mrs. H. T. Miller is a 61 year old widow living alone in a small apartment.    She is supported by a small inheritance from her husband.    She has no friends or family with who she keeps in touch.   She is very isolated and really seems very lonely.    One day at a movie theater a young girl, Mariam, gives Mrs Miller twenty five cents (the cost of a movie in those days) and asks her to buy a ticket for her.   (I will stop the plot summery before I reveal too much as it is a fun story.)  A week later Mariam shows up at her door.    Mrs Miller knows you should not let strange children in your apartment so she asks Mariam to leave.   Mariam comes inside anyway and demands a sandwich.    Before she does finally leave she smashes a vase and takes a treasured cameo broach that Mrs Miller had, even though Mrs Miller tells her not to.    Now things get really strange and a bit scary.   Who is the strange old man that smiled at Mrs Miller one day when she was out shopping?    Is Mariam  real or a figure conjured up by the mind of a woman losing her grip on her sanity because of sheer loneliness.   

"A Christmas Memory" (1956) was also first published in Mademoiselle. (You can read it HERE)   It has since been adopted for radio broadcast, TV, and the stage.    It is considered an American  Christmas classic.    "A Christmas Memory" is set in the 1930s in the American south, where Capote was raised.     The story is considered partially autobiographical.   It is about a young boy and his cousin, who is also is best friend.    The cousin lives with the family and is 61 year old woman with the mind of a child.   Every year the boy and his cousin save their money all year long so they can make 30 or so fruitcakes to give away as Christmas presents.   One of the ingredients is whiskey, which is illegal where they live (this was common in the American South at the time).   One of the best things in the story, for sure a feel good moment, occurs when they go to the house of a man known to sale whiskey.   They have been there several times before and have always dealt only with wife.   The man has never been home and they are glad because he has the reputation as being a giant very scary looking man of a rough sort.    This time he answers the door and yes he is very frightening.    I do not want to tell any more of the plot.   it is both a heart warming and heart breaking story.   There are lots of small wonderful details.

These stories feel like well written TV shows.    They are fun to read.    If I find more of his stories online I will read them.    Of the two I liked "A Christmas Memory" best.    I enjoyed both of these stories. 

Mel u

   Post Script-one of my Twitter friends-Owl59 from Japan-advised me that Hurakami Murakami has translated "Christmas Memories" into Japanese


Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I've not read any Capote either. It seems like these short stories might be a good place to start.

Anonymous said...

What a coincidence... Mee of Bookie Mee was commenting on my blog recommending TC's short stories, in particular "A Christmas Memory". Glad to find the link here on your post. I just saw the film "Capote", it's very suspenseful and captivating, about the period of his life writing In Cold Blood. I will definitely explore his short stories and his book Breakfast at Tiffany's.