The flamboyant author’s collected correspondence brings him back to life in multiple roles, from teenage gadabout to ascendant literary star to conniving dipso burnout.
The unedited, spontaneous Capote (1924–84) we find here is a different creature from the meticulous craftsman who wrote, among other carefully honed works, In Cold Blood, the 1967 genre-bending masterpiece that fused journalism with a novel’s emotional impact and what he called “the precision of poetry.” In his letters, edited by biographer Clarke (Capote, 1988, etc.), he proffers heart and soul with raucous wit to a bevy of friends and fellow artists, as well as influential acquaintances; his affections gush among misspellings and jangled syntax. He disdains to veil his homosexuality, and he reveals early on a predilection for gossip laced with aphorism. This kind of literary cheap shot later led to rejection by the New York socialites he had so diligently courted for decades; they dumped him flat after a 1965 excerpt in Esquire of his final novel, Answered Prayers, a piece full of thinly disguised portraits of real people. Capote pens his missives from an endless variety of engaging venues—Portofino, a Sicilian villa, Katherine Graham’s yacht—but the years darken his outlook. “I loathe writing for films,” he confesses to one of his editors in 1953. “The fact that it is undermining is no mere myth.” To an aspiring writer he notes, “It may take 50 to 100 stories before style and subject and technique suddenly come together … like learning to swim.” The toll taken by the massive effort to produce In Cold Blood, from years of interviews with the killers to the wait for an execution to seal the final chapter, comes across poignantly in a letter to photographer Cecil Beaton: “At the moment feel only bereft,” he writes. “But grateful. Never again.”
Fluff, clutter, and flashes of insight into an enfant terrible of American literature.