Tomorrow is the big day! Kim Powers, author of Capote in Kansas, will be here at Tripping Toward Lucidity with a fantastic guest post. It's been really exciting to correspond with Kim for this blog tour, and it is with great pleasure that I share my feelings about Capote in Kansas.
It's sort of funny that I came to Harper Lee and Truman Capote late in life--Lee especially. While most people read To Kill a Mockingbird in the eighth grade or something, I waited until April of this year, after two English degrees and at the ripe ole age of 27, to finally pick it up. As most people are, I was captivated not only by Lee's writing, but also by her enigmatic place in American letters.
I wasn't quite so late to Capote, having picked up In Cold Blood after I saw the film, Capote. OK, so I was still pretty late, but my belated reading of To Kill a Mockingbird was far more scandalous (especially for an English major).
Given my fascination with both Capote and Lee, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to participate in this blog tour, and I'm happy to report that the book was even more thrilling, thoughtful, and heartbreaking than I ever expected. In Powers' story, Truman Capote is past his prime, hopped up on pills and booze, and beginning to see ghosts. The ghosts of In Cold Blood's infamous Clutter family. The dead family members, as well as Perry, Truman's favorite killer, seem to stalk him, standing in the corner of his room and staring until he resorts to calling his long-estranged friend, (Harper) Nelle Lee. What unfolds is quite literally a haunting and haunted story as both Truman and Nelle are haunted by their respective glories and failures, their broken friendship, and the great books they are unable to duplicate.
The story is told through the eyes of Nelle Lee as she reminisces about her past and laments her broke friendship with Truman. One of the greatest, and most captivating conflicts in the story is the steady stream of trouble that shows up on her doorstep. "Snake boxes" decorated with odd pictures along with small hand-carved coffins full of unsettling pictures of Nelle. and other yucky objects (dirt, red velvet, and an earthworm). The boxes throw Nelle into a spiral of anguish and fear as she assumes it's Truman sending the tokens, but she can't figure out exactly why or what they mean. And before long, the Clutter ghosts begin to materialize for her as well.
Truman never tells his own story. Instead, we experience his portions of the tale through the eyes of his maid, Myrtle J. Bennett. She was probably my favorite character. She's more or less unscathed by Truman's idiosyncrasies, his fame, and his downward spiral. She loves him, for certain, and she's his caretaker, his enabler, and his guardian angel. She cooks for him, helps him exact revenge when it's necessary, and watches over him as he sinks deeper and deeper into dependence, depression, and seemingly into madness. More than anything, Myrtle is down to earth and hilarious. She brings a great deal of humor to a story that could be pretty heavy otherwise. As it is, she tempers Truman's antics helps bring a nice balance to Capote in Kansas.
While I was very impressed with the way Powers wove his story back and forth through Nelle's and Myrtle's points of view, the tone of the book is just great and probably my favorite part. Powers' "voice" in the writing reminded me a great deal of both In Cold Blood and To Kill a Mockingbird. As I think back over those two books, it's the subtle beauty and tragedy that I remember so. There's an easy feel to Powers' writing, and there are moments of pure, simple tragedy that jumped off the page and left me breathless. And, yes, the sure sign of a good book: it made me tear up a bit at the end. Just like In Cold Blood and To Kill a Mockingbird, I cried and I wanted to turn back to the very first page and start all over again. I've said it before, those two inclinations are the highest honors I can pay to any book.
If you're reading, I sincerely hope you'll pick up a copy of Capote in Kansas for yourself, and I do hope you'll stop back by tomorrow. Kim Powers was kind enough to write a tailor-made guest post for this blog based on some things that have been shaking down in my life lately, and his post is just as moving as his superb novel.