The other day I say the film "Infamous" with Toby Jones as Truman Capote and Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee, and not least: Daniel Craig as Perry Smith. If you know your history, I don´t need to say more, now you know the film is about Capote´s writing that one famous fact-fictious novel of his, "In cold blood". Which I have owned, but never read. Passed it on, actually. I have read enough about the case though, and Capote´s involvment.
Truman Capote is an interesting character, a self-made man who kind of imploded after that book was written. Harper Lee was his best friend, and she apparently never even attempted another book after "To kill a mockingbird", which is considered the American novel of all time, or so one might think, considering every American (that is, citizen of the USA) seem to mention it as the best (perhaps only) book they ever read. I have not had the pleasure, nor have I seen either of the films made on it. As far as I could tell, Bullock played her very well, as a very nice, feet-on-the-ground kind of lady, just the type of best friend someone like Truman Capote should have.
Anyway, watching that film made me curious about his failed, uncompleted, last novel, "Answered prayers", and I promptly picked it up from the library and found it was a quick read, only took me a few hours.
I can see how it failed. It really isn´t badly written, but it lacks something. Heart, maybe. The three completed chapters were eventually published in magazines and most of his close society friends (Capote loved hobnobbing with New York society´s most luminous stars, he called them his "swans") dropped him like a hot plate after that. No wonder. "La Cote Basque" is really only about a man (a thinly veiled Capote himself) sitting with a female friend in a restaurant, hearing all kinds of juicy gossip about the women sitting at the tables next to him. Apparently, all those stories were true, told Capote in the strictest confidence. I would have dropped him, too.
Now, if people like Capote were to be believed, the priviliged classes think of nothing else, do nothing else, than sordid sex, particularly with people they are not married to. Sex as power games. Across every kind of "normal" boundry. I don´t know. Perhaps this tale says more about Capote than about any of his social circle. In the film, Perry Smith says about his books that they are "cold". Capote is annoyed and says something like "the man is a killer and he accuses me of being cold?". Well, I don´t know if that really happened, but I agree with Perry, Capote is cold. There is no heart in this story, there is no sympathy with anyone. If the people he betrayed really thought of him as their friend and confidant, they must have been devastatingly hurt.
There is one passage in the novel that seems key:
””Because something is true doesn´t mean it´s convincing, either in life or in art. Think of Proust. Would Remembrance have the ring that it does if he had made it historically literal, if he hadn´t transposed sexes, altered events and identities? If he had been absolutely factual, it would have been less believable, but” – this was a thought I´d often had - ”it might have been better. Less acceptable, but better.” I decided on another drink, after all. ”That´s the question: is truth an illusion, or is illusion truth, or are they essentially the same? Myself, I don´t care what anybody says about me as long as it isn´t true.””A page further down, he settles for "truth as illusion". "Illusion as truth", he says, is another matter. Fact-fiction on one hand, parables on the other, right?
Food for thought, eh? And isn´t this what has been discussed so passionately on the Swedish literary scene for the past decade? How much truth are you allowed to write if you call something a novel? This spring alone, two candid stories about growing up with famous and crappy parents have been published and both are called novels. Perhaps only for legal reasons, or because everyone now knows that our memories are ficticious, or perhaps mythological in the way they structure themselves. Doesn´t mean they don´t contain any truth though. One true fact is related to truth like one single letter is related to a sentence. Isn´t that well put?