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Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career Hardcover – December 1, 1997

4.1 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Nobody can match George Plimpton as an adroit weaver of interviews into a tight narrative fabric. Plimpton can make even a negligible life into a magic-carpet ride, as in his editing of Jean Stein's perennial bestseller, Edie, about Andy Warhol's victim-starlet Edie Sedgwick.

In Truman Capote, Plimpton has an infinitely more important subject, who worked his way down from the top into the shallow pit of druggy celebrity. His book doesn't knock the definitive biography Capote off the shelf, but it's much more fun to read. Plimpton interviewed more than a hundred people--from Capote's childhood to his peak period, 1966, when his Black and White Ball defined high society and In Cold Blood launched the true crime genre, all the way down to his last, sad days as a bitchy caricature of himself. Joanna Carson complains that Plimpton's book is "gossip," which it gloriously is. But it's also brimming with important literary history, and it helps in the Herculean task of sorting out the truth from Capote's multitudinous, entertaining lies; for instance, In Cold Blood turns out to be not strictly factual. James Dickey, whose similar self-destruction is chronicled in Summer of Deliverance, delivers here a good definition of Capote's true gift to literature: "The scene stirring with rightness and strangeness, the compressed phrase, the exact yet imaginative word, the devastating metaphorical aptness, a feeling of concentrated excess which at the same time gives the effect of being crystalline." --Tim Appelo --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

An oral biography that blends the voices of Capote's friends and enemies.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 498 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese / Doubleday; 1st edition (December 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385232497
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385232494
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #346,542 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Orin K. Hargraves on April 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
If there was ever a person who deserved to have his whole story told in the form of gossip by people who knew him, it was TC, and that's what George Plimpton has done for him. Whether you liked the guy or not, this is a fascinating read about one of the most interesting American personalities of the 20th century. It gives many interesting insights into why TC wrote as he did, why he was so good at it, and why he went downhill so fast. Plimpton is nearly faultless in the presentation of the material in logical order; there are a few entries that could have been cut without sacrificing any quality, mostly entries where contributors go on about themselves rather than TC. But these are telling in their own way, and you can always just skip them if you don't like them. I would recommend this to anyone interested in the subject, as well as (1) 20th century American writing generally; (2) pre-Stonewall gay life in the US; (3) New York society in the 1960s; and (4) Harper Lee, the author of To Kill A Mockingbird; she figures significantly both in TC's early and adult life.
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Format: Paperback
Being a man as into self advertisement as Truman Capote was, this is a book that he would truely love. Even though not everything said about him is positive, the very fact that so many prominant people had opinions about and feelings for this strange Southern refugee would probably warm his heart. I have tried without success to appreciate Capote as a writer. With the exception of In Cold Blood, which is less personal and more accessable than his other fiction, I just don't get it. But Capote the personality, now that is different. Those of us who watched his decline over the years on one TV show after another, to the point where his interviews were incoherent babble, have a guilty fascination with this man. And of course the 'mystery' of the missing final project - the greatest fiction of his life - just adds to the sadness of the story.
If you are interested in Capote at all - as writer or as personality - this book is a great source of insight, anecdote and interesting detail.
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Format: Paperback
The most moving aspect of this collection of oral recollections is how it highlights that Capote as a promising fiction writer existed only for ten years: 1948 to 1958. Between that time came his best (and pretty much ALL) of his fiction: his wonderful, lyrical novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms; his first short story collection; and, in 1958, Breakfast at Tiffany's. After 1958 the slide began. The oral stories in this book movingly underline the point that despite the huge success of In Cold Blood, that book was mere journalism (friends who cared about him as a writer noticed), and that Capote never got back to the promising fiction of his first decade.
After In Cold Blood which there was nothing but the parties - the now faded and tawdry-looking ball ball Capote threw at the Plaza Hotel (check out the telling photos Plimpton includes); a friend who attended cried in disbelief "This is supposed to be a great writer we're talking about." The period of playing mascot to wealthy cafe society is also included in all its irrelevant detail, as are the final, dismal years when Truman found it easier to go on Johnny Carson to "do" his "Truman Capote" routine rather than write. The decline in his personality is painful to read about and his constant lying and slandering of friends and other writers (a bizarre attack and libel on Gore Vidal, for example), makes him look an unpleasant irrelevance. His final brain-addled message to his lawyer ("I WANT to die!") and his tawdry death in the house of an ex-wife of Johnny Carson, add an odd, ironical pathos. Capote was a figure of fun in later life but this book, for all its cheapness and relying on (mostly) shallow "friends" for insight is a sad and moving testimony to a potentially great literary writer who never fulfilled the promise of his amazing first decade. I found it unexpectedly moving.
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By A Customer on February 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
Perhaps this biography is a little of what Capote deserves: a lot of meaningless gossip and personal opinions tainted by jealousy, self interest and self delusion.
What was most compelling to me was to see the self interest of those interviewed about Truman become clear through their comments. Many of them take on a noble & condescending tone offering ideas for Capote's alcoholic downfall whilst attempting to come across as clever/funny/sympathetic/noble & above it all. The truth is we're all a little bit obsessed with ourselves/gossip and life's trivia. Capote was no more tragic than many other people. He seemed to have a pretty full life and he left behind some beautiful writing. I can't agree with many of the interviewees that Truman never reached any depth with his writing. They seem to forget that at the end of the day life is quite often just about the small things and that depth can be achieved with the lightest touch.
It is an entertaining book though and if any particular person starts to bore you you can just move onto the next quote. Rather like one of Truman's infamous parties!
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Format: Paperback
Plimpton does a great literary service in this collection of "gossip" so perfectly interwoven, one can't realize how much fun a hayride it is. Beginning with Capote's Southern family relationships and the odd upbringing he had, Plimpton portrays Capote as a willing oddball star. The early years are romatic and endearing. Capote's New York success is also portrayed in a whimsical, almost surreal fashion, showcasing the enormous success and easy high society friends Capote made. It is made clear that as talented as this flambouyant author was, he truly published little for his lifetime, a thorn in the side of his nemesis, Gore Vidal - a master of historic quantitative excess. Peaking with "In Cold Blood", Plimpton truly gets under the skin of Capote and reveals that this was his tormenting climax and one that he would never get over emotionally. The biography becomes desperate at this point with reasons I will not disclose here. However, the downward spiral continues, as Capote publishes "Answered Prayers", satiring all the friends that helped make him a New York socialite. Sinking into alcohol induced depression, Capote retreats to Joanna Carson's home in California to revel in his accompishments and defeats. A heartfelt but terribly depressing ending. Much kudos for Plimpton for bringing out the multitude of characters, comments and opinions from many sources and inter-twining them into a marvelous biography. It almost makes you wish you had a friend like Capote, almost.
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