Forbidden Tomes: HORROR STORIES of TRUMAN CAPOTE

Though he’s known for more whimsical classics like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “The Grass Harp,” or the harrowing true crime account “In Cold Blood,” there is more to Truman Capote than one might at first recognize. He is undoubtedly masterful with sentimental, nostalgic tales and beautiful insights into memory – but lesser discussed are his forays into terror and the Gothic. Today I want to shed some light on the neglected Horror Stories of Truman Capote.

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From a literary perspective, his Collected Stories are a must-read, and all the more exciting for horror fans due to the surprise moments of terror hidden within. In these moments, Capote equals Shirley Jackson in his ability to conjure tiny moments of suspense with the utmost subtlety, and always favoring an ambiguous end. They speak to the darkness of his own visions, something that would come into full effect with “In Cold Blood” (which, in its own way, is utterly horrifying).

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My personal favorites are “Miriam” and “Master Misery.” The former finds an amiable widow befriending a strange child at the movie theater. She soon regrets it as the child begins to haunt her home, ringing at late hours and demanding to be given a home. It’s a fabulous entry in the ‘evil child’ subgenre, and playing on something innate in most people – who can refuse a child, no matter what it begins to ask of you?

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“Master Misery” is less direct in its horror and its story, but its depiction of psychological breakdown is very effective. It follows a woman who, strapped for cash, begins to sell her dreams to a mysterious but enticingly wealthy old man. But what happens when she starts to run out of dreams? This tale is surreal and ambiguous, weaving a bizarre New York City in which a person’s life is slowly devoured. In spite of its ambiguity, I found it deeply disturbing, mostly because it resonated a truth I hadn’t yet named.

The collection features less horrific stories that still contain hints of the Gothic – “A Tree of Night,” in which a young woman is hounded into insanity by grotesque drunkards on an overnight train; and “Children on their Birthdays,” the retrospective tale of a girl who holds uncanny sway over the children in her town. All of these darker offerings speak to a literary tradition of subtle horror that I often think has been forgotten by modern writers. Capote roots his terror in the unraveling of an already fragile mind, pushed over the edge by an unnatural experience that is usually quite small. The aura of hopelessness that hovers over his endings makes them all the more devastating.

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While certainly not a genre writer, Truman Capote shows how capable he is at creating a dreadful and psychological atmosphere. The above stories (and the others, in spite of their lack of fear) are so often forgotten in the horror canon. I recommend them to anyone who likes their dread to creep up slowly, quietly, and internally, so that it is impossible to run away.

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