Friday, March 28, 2008

Capote in Kansas

Fans of Truman Capote and Harper Lee would have probably found Capote in Kansas to be irresistible even before the two recent movie treatments of Capote’s life and Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, the unauthorized biography published last year. But since the book and movies have raised public interest in Capote and Lee to its highest level in the last two decades Kim Powers could not have published his novel at a more perfect time.

Capote in Kansas is set in 1984, just a few weeks before Capote’s death from liver disease in the home of his longtime friend Joanne Carson, Johnny’s second wife. Through flashbacks to 1959 Kansas, when the pair did the research for Capote’s In Cold Blood, and to their childhood days in rural Alabama, Powers explains the powerful bond between the two, imagines what may have caused them to stop speaking to each other for so many years, and unfolds a devastatingly sad version of what their lives became after each was visited by relatively sudden fame and fortune.

Powers imagines a time shortly before Capote’s death during which Capote suddenly telephones Lee in the middle of the night, after years of silence between the two, with a panicked plea for her help to rid his bedroom of Nancy Clutter’s ghost. Nancy is not happy about having been turned into a celebrity by Capote’s book and her ghost eventually visits even Nelle Harper. But this book is not really a ghost story. Rather, it is an unblinking look at two people who despite the powerful bonds of a shared childhood and so many years as best friends allowed themselves to drift apart for reasons the rest of us can only speculate about.

Neither Capote nor Lee ever published a book after the successes of their two masterpieces but they handled that fact very differently. Capote became a regular on the celebrity circuit of television talk shows, for years working hard to maintain the illusion that he was on the verge of publishing his next big book. Lee quietly moved back to Alabama to live with her older sister in the family home and has maintained her privacy and silence regarding Capote and any future writing projects ever since.

Capote’s inability to complete another book was compounded, if not caused outright, by his years of alcohol and drug addiction. Many, as Powers does here, have speculated that his behavior may also be the reason that Lee has never published another book. Capote is likely to have been responsible for the rumor that he, not Harper Lee, was the author of To Kill a Mockingbird. At the least, it was a rumor he encouraged by his refusal to ever deny it. Some think that Lee was so embarrassed and tormented by the rumor that she simply decided that she had had enough of fame and retreated to small town Alabama to live out the rest of her days.

Capote in Kansas is a nice blend of fact and fiction and, although they will be somewhat saddened by its contents, fans of Capote and Lee will enjoy it.

Rated at: 4.0

Related Posts:

A Fascinating Concept: But Will It Work?

In Cold Blood (1965)

The Fruitcake Lady (Truman Capote's Aunt)

Truman Capote - Hollywood Versions

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee

Righting a Wrong About Harper Lee


  1. To Kill a Mockingbird is my all-time favorite book, and I also really like Capote's work. The story of their lives has always been interesting to me. I think this book will definitely have to go on the wishlist.

  2. Lisa, I think that as a fan of both writers you should read this one. Most likely you will find it as sad as I found it, but still it is insightful and I think might be a good representation of the personalities of the two and of their relationship.