New chapter of "Answered Prayers" published
November 1, 2012 7:46 AM   Subscribe

A small piece of Truman Capote’s famously unfinished novel Answered Prayers has come to light. The six-page story, “Yachts and Things,” found among Capote’s papers in the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library, is published in the December issue of Vanity Fair, out now in New York and nationally next week. The story will be available online in mid-November.

The 1975 publication in Esquire of "La Côte Basque 1965" - a 13,000-word chapter from the work-in-progress - effectively destroyed Capote as a social entity and, by extension, as a writer. It also drove one of its subjects to suicide.
posted by Egg Shen (13 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
It's way up high on my life list of What Were They Thinking questions, this notion of socializing with someone like Capote and letting him find out things about you that you actually don't want to become common knowledge. It's like letting your friend the video artist stay in the room with his camera while you have sex with your potbellied pig, and then you're like surprised when the sex tapes come out.
posted by jfuller at 8:34 AM on November 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.
--Truman Capote
posted by chavenet at 8:45 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think 'what they were thinking' was that Capote was a funny little man who existed for their pleasure, and once he showed just how angry he was on the inside, they didn't find him so amusing anymore.

Whether or not we've made progress is an exercise for the reader. Now miserably bitchy gay men just get blogs and draw penises on celebrities. But at least they make bank doing so.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:12 AM on November 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

I can empathize with the shattering shock, humiliation and isolation Capote must have experienced with his social shunning, but I find it difficult to really sympathize. He was an eager lapdog to the super rich, decided to bite the hand that fed him, then was surprised and hurt that the hand was withdrawn. If he'd done it as a farewell fuck-you as a result of some change of heart about his life, that would be one thing, but he did it for rather petty reasons, and incredibly believed he'd still be accepted by that society despite his vicious little jape. I certainly don't think he deserved to be destroyed for his actions, but none of what he suffered afterwards was anything he couldn't have walked away from if he'd so chosen.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:34 AM on November 1, 2012

By the time that the big scandal happened, Capote was already deep into alcoholism and despair, so it's difficult to evaluate how he'd have handled the shunning were he in a healthier state of mind.
posted by The Sprout Queen at 11:02 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think that 'what they were thinking' was, in hindsight, "Damn, I can't believe Truman Capote pulled a Sinclair Lewis on us," although I may be wrong.
posted by mr. digits at 2:14 PM on November 1, 2012

'Answered Prayers' flaws make it compelling. The theme which gradually sinks in is that access to wealth depersonalizes an individual, and makes it appear that other people around them turn into objects. I would highly recommend it.

Last week I bought a copy of 'Portraits and Observations', which is a grab bag of profiles, essays and excerpts of various thingys, including a bit of 'Answered Prayers'. Truman can be an inconsistent writer, but there are times when he can be quite poetic and profound.
posted by ovvl at 2:25 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Capote wasn't the same writer after finishing "In Cold Blood." He formed a relationship with the men who murdered the Clutters, especially Smith. It's rumored that he and Smith even had a romantic relationship. I believe Capote manipulated those relationships for his own gain and ultimately had to live with the guilt of putting his writing before his human-ness. Perhaps "Answered Prayers" was an attempt to assuage his guilt over his own flaws by exposing the flaws in his peers and social circle.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 3:53 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing is, so far as the Rich and Famous knew, Capote wasn't "someone like Capote." That is, they had confided in him and blabbed to him and let him overhear all their gossip for decades and he'd always been discreet. He'd never published a word of it, even though the perpetrators of the various pecadillos (and those who shared the details with Capote) knew that these tales would make a very juicy book indeed.

In other words, the R&P trusted him for the same reason we trust anyone: because they have built up a long record of not betraying us, despite temptations to do so. (Presumably New York's many gossip columnists of the era knew that Capote knew something, and may even have known what Capote knew, but so far as we can tell, nobody ever got him to blab about his friends, even off the record. Again, I stress, so far as we can tell, because the point is that if there were any sort of reasonable suspicion among Capote's circle that he was peddling dirt to the columns, he would have been dropped immediately.)

Another possible reason for their trust is that Capote was not known primarily to them as a writer. He had written a great deal, of course, but without much in the way of popular success, and it's not like he was constantly going on about process and deadlines and such. On the contrary, he was essentially a professional guest, a witty unattached man who could reliably bring sparkle to a party and (so it seemed) a good listener to a socialite's pressing problems.

As SweetTeaAndABiscuit points out, In Cold Blood changed Capote, or at least changed the way he behaved. Finally, in his early 40s, he had real money and his own (not reflected) glory, and it's not unreasonable to assume that it all went to his head. Part of the problem perhaps is that when you're a guest at the party, you have to remain reasonably sober, but once you're in the position to host, you can get as stinking as you please.

The moral of the Capote story is that in general artists don't really have morals; for them the art is the highest good, and things like friendship and trust don't matter so much if there's an exciting story to be told. So confide in a writer if you like, but don't delude yourself that anything is off the record.
posted by La Cieca at 10:25 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's like Picasso, destroying women in his sphere but given a break about it because of all the beauty he brought to the world. It's like people somehow think that there's some cosmic scale somewhere that allows you to treat people like garbage in the name of Art.

Bullshit. I call bullshit.

It's right that he got shunned.

La Cieca called it right -- the people he knifed had no reason to think he'd slash them as he did, because they'd been as friends for years. Who'd have thought that this person who has an inside line to your life, close to you as your husband, perhaps closer, who'd have thought this person was such scum as to publish the most intimate, painful details of their lives, to take them to task about things -- who was he to even think he had the right to take people to task? What a jerk.

If he had any craft -- and he damn sure did -- he could have taken the essence of the things he'd heard and created stories filled with characters that embodied this or that from what he'd seen in life, but he'd pull these characters from his heart, from his art heart, and not from his social circle.

Maybe his largest failing was that he didn't run this past someone wise before hitting the big shiny red "Print" button. Maybe he didn't have any trusted friends with any wisdom. Maybe he didn't have any trusted friends at all, at the time he hit that shiny print button. I don't guess you can blame the editor at Esquire for running it, it's their job to sell magazines and I'm sure that people bought it. But if he'd had one wise friend that he could run this past, it would not have been printed until every person involved was long dead, if even then.

All that said, having been a person who has pretty much never fit anywhere, and who has been cut from a number of herds, I know that he had to have suffered horribly from it. He was totally blind to what he was doing -- he'd never have published it if he had even the tiniest suspicion how it was going to blow up in his face. Shunning is brutal, perhaps the worst that social groups can dish out. They were correct to cut him out of their social circle-- he stepped so far over the line of human decency, he left them little dignity, he publicly slashed his closest friend as she was dying of lung cancer -- but he paid, big.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:35 PM on November 1, 2012

When Dick Cavet asked him if it hadn't been a mistake, he answered, "Well, if you could have Love and Art that would be ideal."
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:44 PM on November 2, 2012

Lady Coolbirth? I thought Capote was a writer fer fuk's sake.
posted by telstar at 1:10 AM on November 3, 2012

Maybe he didn't have any trusted friends with any wisdom.

Jack Dunphy. Haven't read the autobiography, but there might be some clue there.
posted by BWA at 2:39 PM on November 3, 2012

« Older Magic: The Gathering: Armageddon   |   Factor Conga Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments