Children on Their Birthdays, by Truman Capote

4 stars4/5

Ever since I read In Cold Blood a couple of years ago, I’ve been a big fan of Truman Capote.

Children on Their Birthdays, Truman Capote, Penguin Modern Classics

Penguin Books, 2011 edition, paperback, 73 pages - review copy.

I love his keen observational style and wicked way with words. I was pleased to get my hands on this Penguin Mini Modern Classic, which felt like perfect reading for a hectic week and addled brain!

This edition contains three short stories, each of which represent a moment in time:

Children on Their Birthdays, opens by announcing that Miss Bobbit, a girl of eleven has been run down by the six-o’clock bus. Miss Bobbit has had a memorable impact on the community. The ladylike little girl creates a ripple in the Alabama backwater, attracting the attention of the boys of the town with her sophisticated way of dressing and behaving. She has aspirations of being a hollywood star, and although she is hugely precocious, there is genuinely something special and sweet about her as a character.

A Christmas Memory explores the tender relationship between a seven year old and a sixty-something lady, who is sprightly and makes whisky-spiked fruitcakes. Ingredients for the famous fruitcakes are bought with money scraped together including pennies collected by squashing errant flies. The making of the fruitcake is a special ritual in the build up to Christmas and kind whisky-supplying shopkeepers get extra cups of raisins in their portion.

A Tree of Night is about a young girl travelling back from her Uncle’s funeral. On the train, she encounters an old, rather odd-couple who become rather more sinister as the journey goes on.

The actual subject of the stories is almost secondary, in my mind, to the mood that Capote creates and the vivid character descriptions. Capote creates little observational pieces that capture a fleeting moment in time and impart a sense of nostalgia, or impress a particular feeling on the reader, whether that be warm and fuzzy (A Christmas Memory), or cold and creeping (A Tree of Night).

The three snippets below, one from each story are examples of the writing that I so admire.

“…a firefly hour, blue as milkglass…” (Children on Their Birthdays)

“…the path unwinds through lemony sun pools and pitch vine tunnels…” (A Christmas Memory)

“…icicles hung along the station-house eaves like some crystal monster’s vicious teeth.” (A Tree of Night)

I would definitely recommend this little collection. If you are a Capote devotee, you will surely enjoy them and if you haven’t read any of his writing this is a great way to dip your toe in the water.

Truman Capote with puppy

On a side note, I don’t often enjoy reading collections of short stories, but something about just having two or three in one volume appeals. As with food, perhaps it’s nice just to have a few bites as an appetiser?!

Have you read any Capote and if so what would you recommend? Which authors do you particularly admire for their way with words?

13 responses to “Children on Their Birthdays, by Truman Capote

  1. Pingback: Penguin Mini Modern Classics: Saki and O’Connor « Follow the Thread

  2. Have you read Summer Crossing and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, if not then you really should give them a whirl as his fiction is rather wonderful. I actually now not only want to run and get this, though I need to check they arent in a collection of his I already have, and read all the other books I have of his in Mount TBR. I do think he is a wonderful wonderful writer.

    • No but I would love to! B@T’s has been on my Amazon wishlist for a while but I haven’t got around to ordering it yet in case I find a copy somewhere.

  3. Polly, if you’re a fan of Capote, I’d recommend buying the Capote Reader, by Penguin Modern Classics, which brings all his writing together in the one place. I bought mine 15 years ago, and occasionally dip in and out of it. It includes all of his short stories, travel sketches and reportage, plus two novels — “The Grass Harp” & “Breakfast at Tiffanys”.

  4. Oh A Christmas Memory is my favorite short story ever. I loved it to bits! Been meaning to read more Capote since (I read that short in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and other stories). This book would be perfect if I can get my hands on it!

  5. Love that photo, how adorable! I love Breakfast at Tiffany’s, although I’m hesitant to try In Cold Blood. I’d like to try something more of his, maybe short stories are the way.

    • Hi Carolyn, it’s a great picture isn’t it?! I haven’t read Breakfast at Tiffany’s yet. I love the film but I suspect the story will be a bit different in it’s original form. What is it that puts you off In Cold Blood?

      • Breakfast at Tiffany’s is definitely one of his best works, the book is even better than the film. Full of nostalgia and sadness, but still wonderfully wicked and glamorous, it is very different from his earlier stuff and in cold blood, nothing beats it. X

      • Thanks Georgie, a great tip about B@Ts. I have it on my Amazon wishlist so may prompt someone at Christmas!

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