The Atlantic

In Search of the Real Truman Capote

Thirty-five years after it was published, Music for Chameleons is the author’s best, most personal work.
Source: Wikimedia

By the late 1970s, Truman Capote’s life had turned into the kind of gossipy drama he relished. He was stuck in a strained, celibate relationship. His pill-popping, binge-drinking, coke-snorting ways had soared to new heights, leading not only to a number of stints in rehab, but also to a series of embarrassing episodes on television, including one talk-show appearance when he raised the possibility of killing himself. Esquire’s publication of chapters from his long-awaited novel Answered Prayers, with its insider’s view into high society, cost him his standing among his fellow elites. His anxiety—or as Holly Golightly referred to it, “the mean reds”—was through the roof. And still worse, he wasn’t writing.

But you wouldn’t know any of this from reading his preface to the last book he published in his lifetime, , which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. The Capote presented in the first pages of his final work, published 15 years after , is starkly different from the real one—the case of a writer actively reinventing himself through his own writing. He’s tremendously confident and cool, blaming the gap between his major works on philosophical and aesthetic quandaries, and concluding that in the past he was “never working with more is deceptively simple: “I set myself center stage.”

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