Capote The Pariah


Sam Kashner recounts the sad tale of Truman Capote's last attempted novel, a thinly-veiled expose of fixtures in New York's high society, revealing "their gossip, the secrets, the betrayals—even a murder":

[Capote] had boasted to his friend Marella Agnelli, wife of Gianni Agnelli, chairman of the board at Fiat, that Answered Prayers was “going to do to America what Proust did to France.” He couldn’t stop talking about his planned roman à clef. He told People magazine that he was constructing his book like a gun: “There’s the handle, the trigger, the barrel, and, finally, the bullet. And when that bullet is fired from the gun, it’s going to come out with a speed and power like you’ve never seen—wham!” But he had unwittingly turned the gun on himself: exposing the secrets of Manhattan’s rich and powerful was nothing short of social suicide.

Why did he do it?

"I wonder whether he wasn’t testing the love of his friends, to see what he could get away with. We had Truman around because he paid for his supper," [John] Richardson says, "by being the great storyteller in the marketplace of Marrakech. Truman was a brilliant raconteur. We’d say, ‘Oh, do tell us what Mae West was really like,’ or what did he know about Doris Duke? And he’d go on in that inimitable voice for 20 minutes, and it was absolutely marvelous, one story after another. And he loved doing it—he was a show-off."

Truman bristled at the idea that he was some sort of mascot or lapdog. "I was never that," he insisted. "I had a lot of rich friends. I don’t particularly like rich people. In fact, I have a kind of contempt for most of them. . . . Rich people I know would be totally lost … if they didn’t have their money. That’s why … they hang together so closely like a bunch of bees in a beehive, because all they really have is their money." In what would become a mantra of Truman’s, he often asked, "What did they expect? I’m a writer, and I use everything. Did all those people think I was there just to entertain them?"

In researching the piece, Vanity Fair stumbled upon a six-page manuscript of a chapter called "Yachts and Things," also unfinished. You can read it here.

(Truman, in 1959, by Roger Higgins, via Wikimedia Commons)