cover image Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote

Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote

Truman Capote, . . Random, $27.95 (518pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-6661-2

This volume of collected essays, many out of print since their original publication, is both a long overdue and welcome addition to the Capote revival. It's arranged chronologically—from a short 1946 piece on New Orleans, written when Capote was 22, to a brief appreciation of Willa Cather he wrote the day before he died in 1984. The 42 pieces range from one-page portraits of public figures such as Ezra Pound and Coco Chanel to the 104-page 1956 “The Muses Are Heard,” a masterful journalistic account, first printed in the New Yorker , of an American opera company's tour of Porgy and Bess in the U.S.S.R. The collection contains some great writing—his 1970s “Handcarved Coffins,” an account of a Midwestern murder that recalls In Cold Blood and can be savored for its beautifully nuanced balance of empathy and emotional horror. Many of the pieces, however, such as a 1974 sketch of Elizabeth Taylor written for Ladies' Home Journal , feel “occasional” and off-the-cuff. While integral to Capote and his evolution as a writer, these pieces do not constitute his best work. Still, the volume's completeness will recommend it to fans as well as anyone seriously interested in mid–20th-century American literature. (Nov. 20)