Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Truman Capote’s iconic novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s bears only a slight resemblance to the classic Audrey Hepburn film. But that’s definitely not a bad thing. The story follows the unnamed narrator who thinks back on his time spent with “American geisha” Holly Golightly.

The narrator, whom Holly dubs “Fred” in honor of her brother, lives in the same brownstone as Holly and quickly gets sucked into her life. While most of the story just follows small incidents throughout their time together, the plot slowly escalates into a criminal matter that will forever change Holly’s life.

What makes this novella truly stand out is Capote’s writing. His beautiful prose style is comprised of succinct and vivid descriptions that make the characters and the environment come alive in the readers’ imagination. Capote easily captures the essence of the 1940s in New York City in the same way that James Baldwin captures Parisian life in the 1940s in Giovanni’s Room. Both stories also focus on characters who live on the fringe of society and how they respond to that lifestyle.

This novella is a great little read that shows why Capote is such a great writer. And if you enjoy his style, then check out his meatier, groundbreaking book In Cold Blood (a great read for an entirely different reason).

The Chaperone

In the 1920s, Cora volunteers to chaperone young and willful Louise on a trip from Kansas to New York City so Louise can tryout for a distinguished dance company. It’s a time of intolerance—of alcohol, of jazz, of short skirts, of bobbed hair—and Cora who (mostly) agrees with this intolerance tries to instill morality into Louise. However, it is Louise Brooks (a future famous silent film star) who ends up teaching Cora a thing or two about tolerance and acceptance.

Most of the book follows their journey to and in New York City. Cora, whose orphan beginnings are shrouded in doubt, is searching for the truth of who her parents were. In her investigation in the city she meets some interesting characters that help open up her worldview. While most of the Kansas storyline is dull, author Laura Moriarty does a fairly succinct job of providing the pertinent background information needed to create these fully realized characters.

She also does a great job capturing the spirit of the era. It is very easy to picture New York at this time with her descriptions of the atmosphere and character of those who reside in it. And the New York section of the book is by far the most compulsively readable part.

However, the book strays into tedium in the last 100 pages. After the reaching the revelations we’ve been expecting our characters to attain, the story drags out. Moriarty jumps through time to provide quick glimpses of what happens to the character in the next 60 years of their lives. Aside from a heartfelt reunion scene between Cora and Louise, there is little of interest in the snippets of scenes here and there; and they feel like a repetitive rehashing of Cora’s expanding change of morals that we have already learned from the first part of the book.

Moriarty has crafted a great story and setting, a fully imagined world. It is definitely a treat reading parts one and two, but avoid the third part. Instead, put down the book and you can easily imagine how well things might work out for the characters after seeing what choices they make in New York.