Reading Season: Truman Capote

Maybe he just wanted to be a swan. Who could blame him. But being Truman Capote he couldn't help but betray the few swans he knew, namely the Queen of them all, then and forever; Babe PaleyBabe paley

This left him isolated and basically inebriated for the rest of his life. As Gore Vidal famously said, with loathing as he loathed people that lied, "Truman Capote has tried, with some success, to get into a world that I have tried, with some success, to get out of."   

Capote arrived in their world in the only way he knew how; notoriously and not for all that long. He had a bad habit of lying about who he knew, what they did and what he did with them; his end was almost inevitable. 

But oh, when Truman was younger, a sprite, his writing had flair; uniquely funny in a regional sort of way and fictional. Or was it?  Perhaps little coincidence he blended fact and fiction by formulating the non-fiction novel.

Even his contemporaries cut him down but Capote felt journalism as art was virgin terrain so who better than he to blur and blend the two.  Bailey Alexander's fotos of Riva del Garda
Norman Mailer accused him of lacking imagination but Capote was happy to be of some small service to Mailer who copied his style with with The Executioner's Song, among others.  

Such a particular little man, with this lisp and that voice.

In Music for Chameleons there's a short story called "Dazzle." I think this tale contains several ingredients that make up the particular dish that is Truman Capote. The story is about a secret, of course. One that seems so obvious and familiar until it becomes as rare as the stone that "spindazzles."  The secret being; he wants to become a girl. 

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"I was one of those children, an eight-year-old boy temporarily living with Garden District relatives. However, as it happened, I did keep my fascination to myself, for I felt a certain guilt; I had a secret, something that was bothering me, something that was really worrying me very much, something I was afraid to tell anybody, anybody-I couldn't imagine what their reaction would be, it was such an off thing that was worrying me, that had been worrying me for almost two years. I had never heard of anyone with a problem like the one that was troubling me. On the one hand it seemed maybe silly; on the other. 

I wanted to tell my secret to Mrs. Ferguson. Not want to but felt I had to. Because Mrs. Ferguson was said to have magical powers. It was said, and believed by many serious minded people, that she could tame errant husbands, force proposals from reluctant suitors, restore lost hair, recoup squandered fortunes. In short, she was a witch who could make wishes come true. I had a wish.

Mrs. Ferguson did not seem clever enough to be capable of magic. Not even card tricks. She was a plain woman who might have been forty but was perhaps thirty; it was hard to tell, for her round Irish face, with its round full-moon eyes, had few lines and little expression. She was a laundress, probably the only white laundress in New Orleans, and an artist at her trade: the great ladies of the town sent for her when their finest laces and linens and silks required attention. They sent for her for other reasons as well: to obtain desires - a new lover, a certain marriage for a daughter, the death of a husband's mistress, a codicil to a mother's will, an invitation to be Queen of Comus, grandest of the Mardi Gras galas. It was not merely as a laundress that Mrs. Ferguson was courted. The sources of her success, and principal income, was her alleged abilities to sift the sands of daydreams until she produced the solid stuff, golden realities. "

He writes about stealing a piece of jewelry with a large stone from his grandmother in exchange for the secret. His grandmother is staying with him at his temporary residence and he's stolen the precious item, thinking he will give it to Mrs. Ferguson and in return his wish will come true. However, once he blurts out his secret in her presence, everything goes wrong; the stone gathers all the light in the room and everything else turns to blackness.

He writes: "spindazzlespinspindazzledazzledazzle."

The story ends 44 years later when he learns of his grandmother's funeral.

He can't possibly go for he doesn't even love her and yet how he grieves!

Then his father calls him, "You sonofabitch. She died with your picture in her hand." 

I said, "I'm sorry," and hangs up. What was there to say? How could I explain that all through the years any mention of my grandmother, any letter from her or thought of her evoked Mrs. Ferguson? Her laughter, her fury, the swinging, spinning yellow stone:




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