Truman Capote: A Diamond Guitar

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It’s Week 26 of Deal Me In 2014 which means we’re at the halfway point.  I selected the Ace of Hearts which led me to Truman Capote’s short story “A Diamond Guitar”.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis

Up until now, the only Capote stories I’ve read have been his holiday stories, “A Christmas Memory”, “The Thanksgiving Visitor” and “One Christmas”.  They are all excellent and have made me want to read more of his work.

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“A Diamond Guitar” is a well-crafted story with well-developed characters.  Mr. Schaeffer, an inmate at a farm prison for committing murder, begins and ends the story alone (in prison, but alone).  In between, he befriends a Cuban kid, Tico Feo.  Tico, an inmate himself, entertains the rest of the prisoners by playing Spanish songs on his guitar decorated with glass diamonds.  He also tells stories about his adventures prior to prison – most of which everyone knows are lies.

Capote conveys a certain innocence with Tico’s and Mr. Schaeffer’s friendship.  At times, the innocence works; however, other times, it seems at odds with a story about a farm prison.  This story was written in 1950, before Capote’s famous work of non-fiction, In Cold Blood.   I’ve never read this book, but perhaps my expectations for “A Diamond Guitar” were influenced more by the film versions of In Cold Blood than by his holiday works.  I expected holiday stories to be a little sentimental, but not a prison story.  However, “A Diamond Guitar” is good enough for me to continue exploring Capote’s work.

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“One Christmas”

“One Christmas” is the third and final short story in Truman Capote’s holiday story trilogy about nine year-old Buddy and his elderly best friend, Miss Sook.   In this story, Miss Sook stays home in Alabama while Buddy visits his father in New Orleans for Christmas.

Capote reveals a little bit of background information about why Buddy lives with elderly cousins instead of his parents.  His invitation from his father, whom he barely knows, sends Buddy into an emotional tailspin.  While not wanting to leave his friend at Christmas, he feels obligated (as do his relatives) to accept his father’s invitation.

In typical fashion, Buddy’s father does everything he can to make him feel at home in New Orleans including spending money on him.  This manipulation, though, isn’t one way.  At Christmas, Buddy takes advantage of his father’s outpouring of “affection” to get a Christmas gift he’s always wanted.

I thought the story was most unusual in its dealing with the subject of Santa Claus and Buddy’s realization that his father was Santa and that Miss Sook had “lied” to him about Santa, but in true “Miss Sook” fashion, she comes up with her own philosophical explanation for Santa when Buddy returns.  For a young boy, Buddy understood more about his father’s lifestyle than one might ordinarily expect from a nine year-old.  In looking from the balcony of his room, he sees his father dancing with an older (and richer) woman.  Phrases from the song “Just A Gigolo” go through his head.

Of these three stories, “A Christmas Memory” was the first one written and the one I enjoyed the most.  Miss Sook is never named as she is in the other two (this one and “The Thanksgiving Visitor”).  The details of Buddy’s family situation isn’t necessary for the reader to understand the depth of friendship between Buddy and the woman he simply refers to as “my friend”.

Truman Capote: The Thanksgiving Visitor

Up until now, the only work by Truman Capote that I had read was his short story “A Christmas Memory”.  In looking through the titles of his stories, I ran across “The Thanksgiving Visitor”.  On further reading, I found that it was a companion or sequel to “A Christmas Memory”, which I plan on re-reading in the near future so look for a post about it soon.

Both stories involve Buddy, a grade school boy who lives in small-town, Depression-era Alabama with five elderly relatives.  Why he doesn’t live with his parents is only vaguely touched upon.  His relative, Miss Sook, whom he refers to as “my friend”, is a very child-like adult for reasons that again are only vaguely explained.

In “The Thanksgiving Visitor”, Buddy is threatened by an older boy at his school, oddly named Odd Henderson.  While he doesn’t explain to Miss Sook why he fears going to school, she intuitively begins to understand that it is because of “the Henderson boy” whose family she has known most of her life.

With child-like naivety, Miss Sook decides that inviting Odd to her and Buddy’s family Thanksgiving will solve the bullying problem.  For obvious reasons, world-weary Buddy strongly opposes this.  Odd accepts the invitation and the reader realizes there is more to him than meets the eye.

Capote’s descriptions of the geographical region, the time period and the Thanksgiving dinner, itself, make up the best parts of the story.   Odd Henderson’s invitation to Thanksgiving strangely enough solves Buddy’s problem; however, as the story borders on being too sentimental, Capote wisely keeps Buddy and Odd from ever being anything more than acquaintances.  Even with the sentimentality, it’s a beautiful story in its own right.