The Unfinished Novel
Published in Esquire in the mid-1970's but never before in book form, here are the three extant chapters from Capote's notorious, never-finished "non-fiction novel" about his society/literary friends--part roman Ã¡ clef, part naked gossip using real names. (A fourth chapter, "Mojave," was cut from the novel and published separately in Music for Chameleons, his final collection.) All three pieces are narrated circa 1971 by 35-ish P.B. Jones--a composite portrait (including some Capote) of the ultimate bisexual writer/hustler/gigolo, impish and languid and bitchy. In "Unspoiled Monsters," P.B. recounts his climb from St. Louis orphanage to teen-age "Hershey Bar whore" ("there wasn't much I wouldn't do for a nickel's worth of chocolate") to New York--where he gets published via sex with Turner Boatwright, fiction editor of a women's fashion magazine; from there he moves on to opportunistic liaisons with legendary Southern writer Alice Lee Langman ("a relentless bedroom back-seat driver"), drug-addict Denny Fouts in Paris ("Best-Kept Boy in the World" of Isherwood fame), et al.--but ends up penniless back in NY, reduced to working as a professional whore for Miss Victoria Self's "Self Service." (Among his clients: a thinly disguised Tennessee Williams--in the grotesque, pathetic version that's now familiar, thanks to Dotson Rader and others.) Then, in "Kate McCloud," P.B. recalls his first meeting with reclusive beauty Kate--"goddess of the fashion press," ex-wife of a mad young society scion, current estranged wife of an old billionaire German industrialist; P.B. is hired to be Kate's masseur/bodyguard (the German hubby may be out to kill her), there's great erotic tension. . .but the story remains incomplete. Finally, in the infamous "La Cote Basque," P.B. recalls a lunch date at that restaurant: a nonstop gossip-a-thon, including overheard conversation from the nearby table occupied by Gloria Vanderbilt and Mrs. Walter Matthau (an unflattering duo-portrait). Along, the way, P.B. delivers (or hears) nasty tidbits about bygone celebs--Barbara Hutton, Dorothy Parker, Montgomery Clift, Tallulah, Cole Porter, Peggy Guggenheim, Natalie Barney--as well as some still living; (Ned Rorem is "an intolerable combination of brimstone behavior and sell-righteous piety.") So, though dated, this is an undeniable source of slimy scuttlebutt--especially for those able, or interested enough, to decode the clefs. And, along with the malicious eloquence and an unprecedented ribaldry (sometimes exuberant, sometimes just gross), there are glimmers of Capote's storytelling talent. But the overall effect, somewhat wearying even at novella length, is shiny and shallow--with nothing to suggest that a completed Answered Prayers would have been anything like a masterpiece.