The Books: “Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel” (Truman Capote)

Daily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction:

UnansweredPrayers.jpgAnswered Prayers – by Truman Capote. This is the notorious book that sunk Truman. It was unfinished. He was always threatening to publish the rest of it – and made hints, publicly, that he was working on it. But at the time of his death, no manuscript was found. To people who knew him and his pack-rat ways, this was very suspicious. Capote probably was making those public statements to either bolster himself up, or try to create some buzz, or maybe because “if you say it, it’s so” … His writer’s block was a torment. He completely lost the ease of his prose as a young man. The last years of his life were horrific, in terms of loneliness and loss of work. The publication of one of the chapters of Capote’s new novel was like a bomb that went off through high society, the circle in which Capote thrived. “La Cote Basque” is the name of the chapter – and it was highly anticipated. The author of In Cold Blood! His new novel! It was very exciting. Anyway, I won’t go into what happened when “La Cote Basque” came out – but it’s a fascinating story, one of the huge literary dust-ups of our time. It ruined Truman Capote’s life – and it took him a while to fully realize the impact. Entire groups of people took him off their address books. He had been a staple at their parties and yacht outings – he was beloved. As a pet, sure – as a witty bitchy person to have around … and in one fell swoop, all of that was done. Many of his friends never spoke to him again. It was a devastating blow to Capote and he never really recovered. He tried to plead his case – “I’m a writer! What did they think I was doing all that time at their parties? I was observing them, taking note – I’m a writer!” Yeah, well, “they” did not like it. Every door in New York closed to Capote practically overnight.

The three chapters of the unfinished novel have been published under the name “Answered Prayers”. Capote had always hinted that this was going to be his greatest book. And when you read it – I don’t know, it makes me sad. In no way, shape or form would this ever be considered his “greatest” book – and so his words, to me, seem desperate, like he’s trying to imagine himself back into the groove he once had. But so much has been lost. The writing of In Cold Blood sapped him of strength, perhaps forever. He was never the same again after it. I don’t know, I’m such a fan of Capote’s stuff, I’d read a grocery list written by him … but “Answered Prayers” is too bitchy – he has lost ALL the heart in his work. And my God, what heart he has. A Grass Harp, Christmas Memory, Other Voices, Other Rooms … what a beautiful human heart he has. None of it is in evidence in the three chapters of “Answered Prayers”. What I get from his writing here – is that he is angry, he has a bone to pick with the wealthy elite (even though they invited him into their circles) – and he his going to show them to themselves. He is going to unmask them. He is going to say, in the bitchiest tone possible, “You thought a book written about you would be flattering – but that is only because you are so vain, so empty inside – So here. Here is what I REALLY think of you.” Capote can plead his innocence all he wants – that’s what he’s doing here. And the readers recognized themselves – he told their secrets, amped up what they whispered to each other, he named names – He used pseudonyms (but not always – the book is also a big name-dropping extravaganza) but with enough detail that identities were unmistakable. Infidelities, impotence, possible murder, shallow, whatever – he revealed it all here. Every single person in this book is heinous.

So I wonder. Oh, Truman. What happened.

Gerald Clarke’s biography of Truman Capote is a masterpiece of the genre and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Capote. The chapters on the publication of “La Cote Basque” and the fallout afterwards are great – tons of details and quotes and context given. I’m just sketching it in here.

Here’s an excerpt from the “La Cote Basque” chapter.

Excerpt from Answered Prayers – by Truman Capote.

Mrs. Matthau and Mrs. Cooper lingered over cafe filtre. “I know,” mused Mrs. Matthau, who was analyzing the wife of a midnight-TV clown/hero, “Jane is pushy: all those telephone calls – Christ, she could dial Answer Prayer and talk an hour. But she’s bright, she’s fast on the draw, and when you think what she has to put up with. This last episode she told me about: hair-raising. Well, Bobby had a week off from the show – he was so exhausted he told Jane he wanted just to stay home, spend the whole week slopping around in his pajamas, and Jane was ecstatic; she bought hundreds of magazines and books and new LP’s and every kind of goody from Maison Glass. Oh, it was going to be a lovely week. Just Jane and Bobby sleeping and screwing and having baked potatoes with caviar for breakfast. But after one day he evaporated. Didn’t come home night or call. It wasn’t the first time, Jesus be, but Jane was out of her mind. Still, she couldn’t report it to the police; what a sensation that would be. Another day passed, and not a word. Jane hadn’t slept for forty-eight hours. Around three in the morning the phone rang. Bobby. Smashed. She said: ‘My God, Bobby, where are you?’ He said he was in Miami, and she said, losing her temper now, how the fuck did you get in Miami, and he said, oh, he’d gone to the airport and taken a plane, and she said what the fuck for, and he said just because he felt like being alone. Jane said: ‘And are you alone?’ Bobby, you know what a sadist he is behind that huckleberry grin, said: ‘No. There’s someone lying right here. She’d like to speak to you.’ And on comes this scared little giggling peroxide voice: ‘Really, is this really Mrs. Baxter, hee hee? I thought Bobby was making a funny, hee hee. We just heard on the radio how it was snowing there in New York – I mean, you ought to be down here with us where it’s ninety degrees!’ Jane said, very chiseled: ‘I’m afraid I’m much too ill to travel.’ And peroxide, all fluttery, distress: ‘Oh, gee, I’m sorry to hear that. What’s the matter, honey?’ Jane said: ‘I’ve got a double dose of syph and the old clap-clap, all courtesy of that great comic, my husband, Bobby Baxter – and if you don’t want the same, I suggest you get the hell out of there.’ And she hung up.”

Mrs. Cooper was amused, though not very; puzzled, rather. “How can any woman tolerate that? I’d divorce him.”

“Of course you would. But then, you’ve got the two things Jane hasn’t.”


“One; dough. And two: identity.”

This entry was posted in Books and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Books: “Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel” (Truman Capote)

  1. Ted says:

    that’s an interesting thought – that In Cold Blood played him out – there certainly seemed to be consequences he never bargained for from his observation in that story, which became participation…as though perhaps he simply never allowed himself to get as close again. I have got to read him.I feel so ignorant.

  2. red says:

    Ted – there are letters he wrote to friends after watching the execution of smith and hickock and they are so anguished they bring tears to my eyes.

    Like: “I am shattered by what I saw … I wil never be the same again …”

    The book took up 5 or 6 years of his life – and after that … something was missing.

    Ironically, he never thought In Cold Blood was his “great book” – he was too close to it, and the experience of writing it was universally horrible for him. But I don’t think you can get any “greater” than that book.

  3. Ted says:

    Every time I start it, I end up getting scared or something and putting it down. It keeps sitting on my ‘I must read this’ pile.

  4. Susan says:

    When I first arrived in NYC he befriended me. We would eat breakfast together every other noon. He was a VERY funny man. He would have loved what you wrote. He would have loved this blog! And totally enjoyed the obsessions.

  5. red says:

    Oh Ted, I beg of you to read it. :)

  6. red says:

    Susan – wow!! I’d love to hear more about him!

  7. Ted says:

    actually, I took it w/ me on the bus this morning after I wrote that to you and read the first couple of chapters. His descriptive skill and the decorum of his sentences is gorgeous. I think I might be ready.

  8. Tour Marm says:

    Years ago when I was working at Lincoln Center, I was given free tickets to many of the major events and opportunities to see rehearsals at the various theatres.

    At one point Truman Capote was having a one man show reading from his various works. It was unfortunate that Lincoln center had to ‘paper’ (give out free tickets in order to round out the audience) these performances.

    He was riveting and I ended up attending three readings. There was sense of sadness and humanity which came through.

    I was so captivated by him, I ended up speaking to him for a few minutes. he was warm and gracious with an aura of almost boyish innocence. I cherish that meeting.

    I started to read his works and if I had to compare him to any character, it would be Holly Golightly.

  9. Happy birthday, Truman Capote!

    Today is the birthday of one of my favorite writers – Truman Capote. Truman Capote has been one of my many life-long obsessions – so forgive my autuistic knowledge of this man – his life, and his work. Also -…

  10. Happy birthday, Truman Capte!

    Today is the birthday of one of my favorite writers – Truman Capote. Truman Capote has been one of my many life-long obsessions – so forgive my autuistic knowledge of this man – his life, and his work. Also -…

  11. Laura says:

    Could you spend six years immersed in the lives and horrendous deaths of the wonderful people who were murdered, or in the grief of their survivors, or even the last years of the two killers, flawed as they were.. and be able to stand the vaporous, pampered, and sheltered high society folk Truman had spent his life courting, afterwards? How vapid and empty these pampered, privileged, insulated people must have seemed, and how downright silly their issues, compared to the very real people he met in Kansas. I’m sure Truman hated them all after his Kansas years, hated himself for still craving their approval.. and knowing in his heart how little he really counted for in their insular, privileged world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.