Sunday, December 11, 2016

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

"No, the blues are because you're getting fat, or maybe it's been raining too long. You're sad, that's all. But the mean reds are horrible. You're afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don't know what you're afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen, only you don't know what it is. You've had that feeling?""Quite often. Some people call it angst."All right. Angst. But what do you do about it?""Well, a drink helps.""I've tried that. I've tried aspirin, too. Rusty thinks I should smoke marijuana, and I did for a while, but it only makes me giggle. What I've found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany's. It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets. If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffanny's, then I'd buy some furniture and give the cat a name."
I've never been as big of a fan of the movie version of Breakfast at Tiffany's as everyone else seems to be. I found Holly Golightly obnoxious and unlikeable, Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi scary and racist, and I had trouble idolizing Hepburn's Holly the way many of girlfriends seem to. In the initial pages of the novella, I had many of the same feelings. Holly is flighty and dismissive and self-centered (and blonde!!), and reminded me a lot Daisy from The Great Gatsby; she is so used to being the center of the universe that she doesn't seem able to acknowledge that other people exist in the world.

Unlike Hepburn's character, though, I found that Capote's Holly really does gather some depth as the novella progresses, mostly in the scenes where she drops her guard a little. The novella is much darker than the movie, and Holly is allowed to be a little less in control and a little more human. The narrator's obsession with her (and every other male character's) is still a little frustrating, but it's also more understandable. She lets her guard down for these snippets--moments where we see past the artifice that she's built up around herself--that do more to humanize her than her monumental breakdown over the death of her brother.

 The final cab ride, especially, gives Holly the depth she deserves. Not only does she admit to fear:
"I'm very scared, Buster. Yes, at last. Because it could go on forever. Not knowing what's yours until you've thrown it away.  The mean reds, they're nothing. The fat woman, she nothing. This, though: my mouth's so dry, if my life depended on it I couldn't spit."
The ending of the movie has a version of this, but it's saccharine and shallow, and felt like Holly manipulating "Fred." Because the ending of the novella is so much sadder (or at least so much more ambiguous), this feels less like a calculated move and more like genuine vulnerability, something the movie Holly lacks.

She's still not my favorite literary woman by a long shot, but Capote's won me over to Holly as a living, multidimensional person, which I wasn't ready for him to do.

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