A Christmas Memory – Truman Capote

I always think I don’t have that many quirks, or OCD moments, when it comes to reading and books yet it seems I have more than I think. One such quirk which you might have heard on the festive episode of The Readers is that I only like reading Christmas books at Christmas if I can help it. I often actually plan a small Christmas selection in advance the first of which was Truman Capote’s collection of three festive stories A Christmas Memory, which I picked up on a bargain hunt back in August when I was in Washington DC, part of my American haul, that I have been saving to read until now.

The Modern Library, 1956 (2007 edition), hardback, short stories, 107 pages, bought by my good self

The Modern Library, 1956 (2007 edition), hardback, short stories, 107 pages, bought by my good self

A Christmas Memory is, as it says on the tin pretty much, as selection of three Christmas memories from Truman Capote’s past that he has fictionalised in some way. Interestingly I didn’t actually realised they were all from the same narrator ‘Buddy’ until almost the end of the second story, and so we see through Buddy’s eyes a world of nostalgia with the additional vantage of hindsight  these three particular festive moments which have lasted in the boys mind.

The first A Christmas Memory tells a wonderful story of Buddy and his friend Mrs Sook, and her dog Queenie, have been saving up all year to make over 30 Christmas cakes. Some are for their friends locally, though interestingly not so many for the distant relatives that Buddy lives with, and for more random people further afield, like the president. It is a tale of a happy nostalgic ritual and how they go about keeping the tradition when times are hard.

It’s always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: “It’s fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.”

The second tale One Christmas is the shortest of the three and sees Buddy leaving the home he has been sent to with distant relatives, to spend a Christmas with his estranged father. This is an interesting tale which starts of quite magically and ideally and then takes on a slightly more and more sinister turn of events as father and son try to work out the relationship between them. It also looks at how Christmas is changing in modern times, the classic Christmas against the commercial and contemporary.

Snow! Until I could read myself, Sook read me many stories, and it seemed a lot of snow was in almost all of them. Drifting, dazzling fairytale flakes. It was something I dreamed about; something magical and mysterious that I wanted to see and feel and touch.

The third and final tale is The Thanksgiving Visitor which tells of Miss Sook getting into the spirit of hospitality and charity (which has vanished if you look at what happened on Black Friday this year) when she invites a stranger to dinner. The stranger happens to be Buddy’s worst enemy at school, Odd Henderson, bringing a new tension into the young boy and older woman’s friendship and also brings about a tale of revenge which backfires somewhat.

Talk about mean! Odd Henderson was the meanest human creature in my experience.
And I’m speaking of a twelve-year-old boy, not some grownup who has had the time to ripen a naturally evil disposition.

It is an interesting, if a little strange, collection this one. A selection of almost fables. The whole collection brings about the childhood of a boy who isn’t living the stereotypical life with a stereotypical family, as his parents have split up he stays with distant family members as I mentioned before. In this scenario the wonderful friendship between Buddy and Miss Sook, who seems to have some form of learning difficulties and is in many ways childlike herself, is utterly beautiful and in the title story completely gorgeous and moving.

The slight problem I had with it though is that there lies a hint of bitterness in the second and third stories. Whilst the first is all about the good in people Christmas can bring One Christmas is really about greed and the commercialisation of Christmas, and The Thanksgiving Visitor is a tale of someone seeking revenge and that revenge sort of back firing. True enough, both these tales end well (and we can see the moral of the story) yet there is a certain negativity in them, or still lingering anger which Capote may have seen this as therapy for, which made the book have a rather miserable after taste. I am a Scrooge enough as it is at Christmas, this ended up leaving me feeling glum when what I needed was something lighter and more chipper maybe?

Either way you cannot fault the writing. Capote is an author whose craftsmanship with words is just a marvel, simple as that. Maybe it should be no surprise that with his love for the macabre, as in In Cold Blood, and the darker side of the happy story (if you have read Breakfast at Tiffany’s rather than see the film you will know what I mean), this would be about the shadows behind the Christmas tree rather than the ones in front. I just wish they had all been like A Christmas Memory which I think is possibly the perfect modern Christmas tale.

Have you read this collection and if so what did you make of it? Have any of you seen the film which I have only just discovered exists? Finally, am I the only person who likes to only read about Christmas at Christmas?


Filed under Review, Short Stories, The Modern Library, Truman Capote

4 responses to “A Christmas Memory – Truman Capote

  1. Val

    Hello, Been subscribed to your fine blog for quite awhile now but this is my first time to comment~ I am very familiar with all these Truman Capote stories and for many years now as well as the film version of Christmas Memory with Geraldine Fitzgerald. I love all these stories but of the 3 A Christmas Memory is my favorite. Yes , you are right about the bitterness as all of these tales are largely auto-biographical and Capote really did have a great deal of bitterness towards his father and mother for essentially abandoning him until he was older~ even then he had a very rough and rocky relationship with his mother . I think if you are looking for Christmas related stories to read and uplift or enrich the season perhaps the latter two are not the best! I did want to say, that like you I love to read Christmas themed stories during the whole of December. and it can be in the form of anything from a mystery, a ghostly tale, poetry or non-fiction ,or fiction. So, you are not alone in doing this. I even seek out. to some extent books related. to all the seasonal changes during whatever the new season happens to be~ i.e. in summer I like reading things set during summer or same with autumn especially~ not exclusively of course, but do find I really enjoy immersing myself in written word that is a reflection of the season. Not sure if that would be considered quirky but none-the-less I like it. Did you get a chance to watch the film of A Christmas Memory? I sought it out this year as an antidote to what is on offer on t.v. I cannot abide most the so called Christmas fare /entertainment shown these days on tv~ I suddenly remembered and longed to see A Christmas Memory again as it had been years since shown ~ I was really pleased to find it online . I am in complete agreement here with all your thoughts . Thank you for all your very informative and interesting posts. Hope the New Year will be a brilliant one for you.

  2. I have only read A Christmas Memory so I can’t speak to the other two. But aren’t there a couple of mean-spirited relatives in it? Isn’t the ending a bit down-beat? It’s been a while since I read it. I can second the movie version with Geraldine Fitzgerald. Love it.

    You’ll have to give Other Voices, Other Rooms a go next. I read it this year and loved it.

    • Val

      Would second the recommendation for Other Voices , Other Rooms. It was the first book I read by him and loved his voice right from the beginning~(showing my age here, but read it in 1969) The book catapulted Capote to fame . It was even supposed to have been made into a film, the rights bough by a major movie company but for some reason never came to fruition but his fame was set.

  3. Carrie Mercer

    I have only read A Christmas Memory, which ought to be called “Fruitcake Weather” as I love that line so. I do love that story, just reread it in a collection of short stories all themed around Christmas. Isn’t it odd that he never names the woman in that story, that she’s just “my friend,” which is sweet but at the same time kind of distracting. I love how they send a cake to Mrs. Roosevelt, that would never happen today. Cripes, I can’t even bring homemade food to the library for a meeting, it has to be store bought for insurance purposes!
    I like to read Christmas stories anytime of year. I read them so much, in fact, that I’m now trying to write reviews of them and collect them all into a Christmas zine. That I didn’t finish this year. Maybe by next December…

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