Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Breakfast at Tiffany's: The Great Gatsby reimagined
I finally read Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's last week. It's a classic American novella, a quick read, and a bit of a disappointment. I've looked forward to reading this for years. I had assumed that I would like Capote as a writer, and I do like the movie reasonably well. Perhaps I was too familiar with the story to really appreciate Capote's words--and the movie, as I remember it, it's been awhile since I watched it, is very true to the original story.
For starters, there's a dated glibness to the writing that I found tired. Perhaps it was considered fresh and hip in 1958, but I had assumed it would hold up better to the test of time. I love to earmark pages with passages that resonate with me, but I finished the story with nary an earmarked page. That says a lot right there.
Last night when I was thinking about what to say about Breakfast at Tiffany's, I thought about how much I liked the first-person narrator (much more than Holly Golightly, in fact) and it struck me that I liked him in the same way that I liked Nick Carroway from The Great Gatsby so much more than Gatsby. Both are middle of the road, steady hand on the tiller types, and both are budding novelists, which makes them, in a cliche world anyway, excellent observers as well as foils for the flashier types like Holly Golightly and Jay Gatsby, who streak across their sky and then vanish into the American mythos.
Both Holly Golightly and Jay Gatsby are characters that Lula Mae Barnes and James Gatz forge out of the drab, dead-end, prosaic material into which they are born and which they can't bear to own. If Gatsby is Fitzgerald's symbol of the American Dream circa 1929, then Holly Golightly is Capote's circa 1958. For me, though, the real hero of both works is the virtually nameless writer who keeps a steady head and hand while recording the stories that he uncovers. He plugs away at articulating the hopes and dreams that he witnesses, falls in love with Holly/Gatsby but is mature enough to recognize that they are images and icons who have sold their past and so have no future.
So I wonder, did Capote set out to rewrite The Great Gatsby? I didn't want to see if anyone else had made this connection before I wrote this post, so I just Googled and found this piece in The Guardian from September 2009, which makes even more of a case than I did. Knowing the little I do about Capote, though, I doubt he would ever have owned up to consciously reworking The Great Gatsby.
Even if Capote did set out to rewrite The Great Gatsby, that still doesn't account for my ho-hum response to Breakfast at Tiffany's itself. The work is dated and just doesn't stand up to the test of time in the way The Great Gatsby does. However, I'm so glad that I read it because finding the parallels to TGG was a kick. There's always a silver lining.