Truman Capote; the name alone conjures up an image in the mind, not always a complimentary one. George Plimpton’s “oral biography” as he terms it, is an attempt to more fully represent the life of one of the most celebrated, and notorious, writers of the twentieth century with TRUMAN CAPOTE: IN WHICH VARIOUS FRIENDS, ENEMIES, ACQUAINTANCES, AND DETRACTORS RECALL HIS TURBULENT CAREER.
The book chronicles Capote’s life—from his childhood in Monroeville, Alabama, to his death sixty years later in Los Angeles—in the form of personal reminiscences. The format is key because Plimpton skillfully contrasts different versions of an event by placing them next to each other. So there are many recollections of the famous “Black and White Ball,” of Truman’s friends and enemies by other friends and enemies, of the writing of IN COLD BLOOD (1965) and other books, of Truman by his lovers, and of strangers who met him once and are incapable of forgetting it.
There are some interesting and surprising stories: of Truman, in a blue linen suit, climbing into a bullfighting ring in Spain and fearlessly facing a bull; or Walter Huston’s account of Truman Capote and Humphrey Bogart wrestling on a hotel room floor one night while making the film BEAT THE DEVIL (1953).
If the reader has no idea what Truman Capote did, than this is not the book to read. A traditional biography is the place to start. If, however, the reader is interested in finding out who Truman Capote was as a man, there is no better way to explore someone’s humanity than by what people experienced with and thought of him. In the end the reader comes away from this book not with facts, but with emotion, as if Truman Capote was a friend.