Friday, June 29, 2007

Summer Book Review

"Breakfast at Tiffany's"

From the summer online edition of UCSF "Synapse":
Summer Book Review: Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

By Stephanie Chang

Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears will no doubt dominate the gossip columns this summer with reports of their outrageous behavior and various indiscretions. What fascinates me, however, is not Paris’ current incarceration or Britney’s nervous breakdown, but the fact that mainstream media and society at large appear so fascinated by the setbacks and exploits of beautiful, young, unattached women. It should come as no surprise that the stories or “plights” (forgive the word) of attractive, young damsels searching for their places in the world have dominated mainstream media since the publishing of Samuel Richardson’s bestselling novel, Pamela, in 1740.
The bevy of winsome literary heroines has grown quite large over the years … Lolita, Jane Eyre, Lily Bart, Bridget Jones … yet one particular young lady named Holly Golightly continues to charm, intrigue and delight readers with an appeal as modern as the starlets of young Hollywood.
Truman Capote’s classic novel, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, introduces Holly Golightly through the eyes of an anonymous narrator, a struggling writer living in New York City. The narrator first sees Holly in the hallway of their apartment building, “she wore a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker. For all her chic thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health. … A pair of dark glasses blotted out her eyes. It was a face beyond childhood, yet this side of belonging to a woman. I thought her anywhere between sixteen and thirty; as it turned out, she was shy two months of her nineteenth birthday.”
The fragile, touching relationship that develops between Holly Golightly, a society “playgirl” who sleeps with men and cashes their checks, and the introspective narrator who loves fanciful antique birdcages and yearns to be part of the “scene,” forms a window into Holly Golightly’s shocking past and enigmatic future.
Many authors have been accused of falling in love with their heroines, and it becomes painfully clear in each word, sentence, and chapter that Truman Capote has fallen in love with his literary creation, recalling the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea. Yet who can resist Holly’s charming innocence, her raw vulnerability, and gritty determination to find a “home” for herself in a world that cares nothing for her?
It would be a cliché to say that the complexity of Holly’s character resembles an onion with many layers, and it would be more appropriate to describe her as a richly flavored onion soup with paradoxical elements of youthful hope and jaded maturity – a 19-year-old with a graceful face of indeterminate age – worn into smoothness by premature hardship and sustained by a restless hunger.
“Never love a wild thing,” Holly Golightly counsels Mr. Bell, the bartender, before escaping to Brazil.
Perhaps Holly is not only addressing Mr. Bell, but also Capote himself and generations of readers who have fallen under Miss Golightly’s spell, because she warns, “You can't give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get. Until they're strong enough to run into the woods. or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky. That's how you'll end up, Mr.Bell. If you let yourself love a wild thing. You'll end up looking at the sky.”
Therefore, this summer, when you are not reading the tabloid misadventures of our favorite real-life society girls, take along Breakfast at Tiffany’s (an extremely short and readable novel that reeks of sophistication) to the beach, exotic country, or the lab bench, and meet my favorite wanton ingenue – Holly Golightly. She’s already got the chic thinness, the cool black dress, and the saucer-shaped sunglasses, but she also offers a depth of character and poetic insight that will touch you in its poignancy.
“It’s better to look at the sky [for wild things] than live there,” Holly insists, because the sky is “such an empty place; so vague. Just a country where the thunder goes and things disappear.”

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