Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Capote in Kansas

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.


  1. Myrtle was great wasn't she? I loved her for sticking with Truman through ups and downs. Like you, I read To Kill a Mockingbird kinda late and I still haven't read In Cold Blood but that didn't deter my enjoyment in the book at all. I loved it. Looking forward to Kim's guest post!

  2. Wow! This does sound amazing. What a great review - and since I love Capote and since it October, when ghosts travel in our minds most, I"ll have to get hold of this book. Plus, I'll be back for the guest post.

  3. What an eloquent review...moving this book to the top of my tbr list for sure. And I can't WAIT to stop back for the guest post. Wonderful writing, Andi. Just wonderful.

  4. I, too, was late to Capote. Not turned onto his stuff until the movie. But then I went through a big ole phase. I'm very intrigued by this book....I've been following your progress with it. I have added it to my list!

  5. Iliana, Myrtle was just awesome!!! I didn't know what to think of her at first, but she grew on me very quickly. It wouldn't have been the same without her. Definitely give In Cold Blood a go when you get a chance. It's surprisingly gorgeous for true crime.

    Thanks so much, Andi! I think this is one you would really appreciate. It's unique and wonderfully written.

    Thanks so much, Courtney! Those compliments mean so much, especially from you, a writer I admire so much. See you back here tomorrow!

    Kristen, it was one of those books that I wanted to drag out for a really long time (and did) because I was enjoying it so much. Gulping it down didn't seem to do it justice. :)

  6. I will definitely pick up a copy of this book! I love that subtle beauty and tragedy that you mentioned.

    I love Capote, and although I read To Kill a Mockingbird late too, I fell in love with it. So there's no way I can miss this book.

    Thank you for the beautiful review, Andi.

  7. Glad you liked the review, Nymeth, and I hope you enjoy the book!

  8. Being a book that is somewhat about the hauntings of one's failures makes it sound like a book that works on many different levels.

    You are not alone in your lateness to Mockingbird. I just read it for the first time at age 37! And that is really bad considering I was assigned the book as a junior in high school for American Lit and got an A on the test for the book!

  9. Wonderful post, Andi! I'm on tap at the end of the month and I cannot wait. I was hoping to read In Cold Blood first, but I doubt that I will be able to. I'm glad to be on this tour with you!

  10. LOL, Carl! Your experience with Mockingbird sounds like my experience with The Scarlett Letter. It was assigned to me in high school, I didn't read it, but got a 100 on the test. I finally read it in college and LOVED it. Better late than never, right?

    Oh good, LH! I'm really looking forward to your thoughts on this one!

  11. This is a thoughtful review. I agree that they are both haunted by their mistakes and failures in the friendship, more so than the "actual" ghosts. I'm late to Capote so this book gives me an incentive to explore more of his works.

  12. I loved Myrtle, too. Especially the part with the sugar in the gas tank. That scene cracked me up! Great review!

    Diary of an Eccentric


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