cover image Truman Capote

Truman Capote

George Plimpton. Nan A. Talese, $31.75 (512pp) ISBN 978-0-385-23249-4

Few lives present so apt a subject for an oral biography as that of Truman Capote (1924-84), the celebrity gossip hound, gay gadfly of the jet-setting class and author of such classics as In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany's. In the style of Plimpton and Jean Stein's Edie: An American Biography (1982), this portrait is in fact an oral history, woven together from the personal accounts of dozens of friends, family, critics and admirers. Like the hyper-sophisticated cocktail parties that Capote relished, the book is an intoxicating swirl of contradictory stories, serious analysis and rumors, adroitly edited in chapters arranged like those of a picaresque novel. Born into a poor family in the tiny town of Monroeville, Ala., Capote was the neighbor of Harper Lee, a lifelong friend who refused to participate in this study. Plimpton compensates by marshaling the stories of witnesses to virtually every stage of Capote's life. By 1966, the year of his Black and White Ball, Capote had reached his social and literary apogee. Alcoholism and writer's block followed. In 1975, Capote published excerpts from an acerbic, and ultimately unfinished, roman a clef that skewered many of his friends, who ostracized him until he died, obese, depressed and drug-addicted. Although Capote's inner life and motivations remain elusive here, Plimpton's masterful interviews, interspersed with a spectacular gallery of photos, achieve what even Gerald Clarke's definitive biography of Capote did not: a technicolor portrait of Capote's personae against a social backdrop that James Dickey describes here as ""the desperate and defiant secret lives, the hyperactive despair and ruinous lack of self-discipline of the monied class of our time."" First serial to the New Yorker; BOMC and QPB selections; major ad/promo; author tour. (Dec.)