Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tiny Terror

American Heritage Dictionary defines the term psychobiography as “a biography that analyzes the psychological makeup, character, or motivations of its subject.”  This approach to biography is generally more concerned with the why of a life than it is with the what.  As William Todd Schultz makes clear in Tiny Terror, author Truman Capote is a near perfect candidate for such a treatment.

As noted in the book’s subtitle, Schultz focuses on one specific question in regards to understanding Capote: Why Truman Capote (Almost) Wrote Answered Prayers.  Schultz wants to know what would motivate a man like Truman Capote to so viciously trash the group of high-society women he called his best friends.  These women, Capote’s “swans,” were the only real friends he seemed to have left late in his life, and that he would risk losing those friendships for the sake of a novel he never finished is difficult to understand.  Capote did take that risk and, as a result, he was ostracized and blackballed from the company of these women for the rest of his life, leaving him to die a broken man in the home of perhaps his last friend in the world, Johnny Carson’s ex-wife, Joanne.

Tiny Terror delves deeply into Capote’s dark Southern childhood in order to explain how he came to be the man he was.  His was a childhood of insecurities in which he felt abandoned by his parents and failed to form any real friendships other than with fellow author and childhood neighbor Harper Lee, (although their relationship is only lightly touched upon in the book).  According to Schultz’s theory, because of so much early insecurity, Capote grew into a neurotically supersensitive adult who always “expected to be hurt” in any emotional relationship he entered.  Sooner or later, he would be rejected. 

This was, however, only one side of the man’s personality.  Capote convinced himself that he was beyond caring what others thought of him, especially those whom he felt were using him simply as an oddity or amusement.  He was determined to strike first at those he sensed were laughing at him or taking him for granted.  Rather than allowing himself to be hurt, Capote defended himself with a nasty, pre-emptive strike in which he would take his revenge on others before they could hurt him more than they already had.

In the case of his “swans” and Answered Prayers, as Schultz puts it, “Capote died a sad, lonely death.  In some ways he scripted it.  He never expected to be loved; he expected to be dismissed, and he was in the end.  He made it happen…Even the swans flew off, to the sound of Capote’s buckshot.”

William Todd Schultz has written a remarkably insightful book that fans of Truman Capote’s work are sure to appreciate.  Even those who only knew or remember Capote as a fascinating late night guest on talk shows of that era are certain to see him in a new light - and wonder how they could have missed so much suffering on display as they laughed along with his television hosts.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)


  1. I have a queston about your blog format. How do you get so many of your blogs to show up at once. Mine(www.readabook2011.blogspot.com) only shows two at a time.

  2. I have always thought Capote is a fascinating character. I'd enjoy reading this one, I think.

  3. Cody, go to the Design section and click on the "settings" tab. From there, click on "Formatting." In that section you will see (first choice, I think) a section called "Show at Most." You can decide right there how many of your older posts you want to have on display at any one time. I think mine is set at 50.

  4. Kathleen, if Capote fascinates you, you will definitely enjoy this book. The only part I did not enjoy at all was the chapter on Breakfast at Tiffany's...too much detail and it became meaningless to me with the repetition. That's why I gave the book a "4" instead of a "5," in fact.

  5. I'm very skeptical of this idea. How can you psychoanalyze a dead person. Capote's been gong 15 years or so right? You'd have to do so much speculating, I wonder how solid conclusions could be made.

    But it is an interesting questions. I remember all the speculation at the time of his death, wondering if he had finished pages of the manuscript hidden away somewhere.

  6. It's all based on standard psychoanalysis techniques and theory, C.B., but strictly on observation, research, interviews with those who knew him, etc. I have to admit that it all makes perfect sense to me; it seems pretty solid. Maybe that's because it confirmed what I already pretty much thought, however.

  7. I just today happened upon your review at amazon.com, then clicked through to this link. Thanks very much! I'm happy you liked the book. It was a breeze to write which, at the time, I felt was a positive sign. I've got another psychobiography coming out in September, by the way, on photographer Diane Arbus. Anyway, your review made my day. With thanks, Todd Schultz

  8. Todd, thanks for stopping by. I learned a lot from your book, some of it vaguely suspected from observation of Capote and other reading, and I'm interested in reading more psychobiography now. I'll look for your new one, come September. All the best.

  9. Another one you might like, by a friend of mine, is called George W Bush and the Redemptive Dream. Author is Dan McAdams, publisher Oxford. It's part of the same Inner Lives Series as Capote. Thanks again Sam, Todd