Books: Bad Little Good Girl

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BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (179 pp.)—Truman Capote—Random House ($3.50).

Holly Golightly, 18, is a cross between a grown-up Lolita and a teen-age Auntie Mame. A piquantly wacky ex-hillbilly who lives in a Manhattan upper East Side brownstone, she is a kind of expense-account tramp; as she puts it in her own countdown, "I've only had eleven lovers."

Holly is the heroine of the long title story in this four-story collection and the hottest kitten ever to hit the typewriter keys of Truman (The Muses Are Heard) Capote. Her unhousebroken style of life has already barred her from the intellectual drawing room of Harper's Bazaar, whose editors bought the story but did not print it. Holly is really more to be pitied than censored, more waifish than raffish, a bad little good girl, alone and a little afraid in a lot of beds she never made.

A Real Phony. Breakfast at Tiffany's takes place, flashback-fashion, in 1943, and is full of stationary action: his room, her room, and a Lexington Avenue bar. His room contains Holly's Platonic friend, a fledgling writer whom she calls Buster. Holly's room contains unopened suitcases and unpacked crates frequently decorated with filled martini glasses, for in Holly's transient world, home is wherever one hangs one's hangover. Into Holly's rowdy parties troop the well-heeled and just plain heels. Among them: a rich, effeminate, gossip-column playboy; a roller-skating coloratura; Holly's cigar-and-grammar-chomping onetime Hollywood agent, who says of her, "She isn't a phony because she's a real phony"; Holly's long-abandoned middle-aged hubby from Tulip, Texas, who reveals her unphony name (Lulamae Barnes) and wonders when she is coming home to him and their four "churren" (all by his previous marriage); and skads of Army and Navy officers.

But when Holly has the "mean reds," as she calls the deep blues, and shudders at thoughts of "the fat woman," as she calls death, she likes to cab past Tiffany's and "breakfast" on its jeweled serenity, or else crawl out on her fire escape with her cat and sing "Don't wanna sleep, Don't wanna die, Just wanna go a-travelin' through the pastures of the sky."

Cleft in the Rock. What Holly is looking for is what Streetcar's Blanche DuBois was looking for, "a cleft in the rock of the world." She seems to find it with a Brazilian diplomat named José Ybarra-Jaeger, but a scandal of which Holly is innocent breaks over her blonde head and Ybarra-Jaeger checks out. In that heartbroken moment she is defenseless and touching. " 'But oh gee, golly goddamn,' she said, jamming a fist into her mouth like a bawling baby, I did love him. The rat.' "

In this, as in the other three stories (also about waifs and strays), Author Capote has retained sentiment without permitting himself schmalz, achieved pity without falling into self-pity. Over whatever is sordid falls his crisp, clean prose. At the end of Breakfast, Holly's whereabouts are unknown and she may even be dead and "travelin' through the pastures of the sky." But her fate is really written in her dialogue. Bad little good girls like Holly Golightly never die; they go to Broadway, where Julie Harris plays them.