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Sunday, August 10, 2008


I've just finished Truman Capote's Answered Prayers. The book is divided into three part as told to us by P.B. Jones, a drinking writer who lives at the Y. I won't discuss plot because I agree with the late Norman Mailer on this one, the writing is terrific but the plot is thin.

What makes this book so incredible is really the first section, Unspoiled Monsters. The voice of P.B. is strong. The book blasts through time and space with nervous energy and writing so sharp you want to poke a pencil into your brain. Every time he describes a character it's always with the unexpected detail that makes you pine for the next one. Even when characterizing a city he's at his best as with this excerpt:

"Tangier is a white piece of cubist sculpture displayed against a mountainside facing the Bay of Gibralter. One descends from the top of the mountain, through a middle-class suburb sprinkled with ugly Mediterranean villas, to the 'modern' town, a broiling miasma of overly wide boulevards, cement-colored high-rises, to the sleaky maze of the sea-coasted Casbah. Except for those present for presumably legitimate business purposes, virtually every foreign Tangerine is ensconced there for at least one, if not all, of four reasons: the easy availability of drugs, lustful adolescent prostitutes, tax loopholes, or because he is so undesirable, no place north of Port Said would let him out of the airport or off a ship. It is a dull town where all the essential risks have been removed."

It chokes down a good sized city's worth of information with full use of alliteration and assonance that tickle the tongue as the words twirl outward.

Here's his brief description of the young Elizabeth Taylor, again beautiful and bang on.

"...Taylor, nineteen and ravishing, sublimely fresh as a lilac after rain."

The book in general as I mentioned has three parts, the first is brilliant, the second is good, the third rambles as we basically eavesdrop onto conversations in a hoity toity restaurant. It's nearly skippable, that part. But let it go, you don' t need to hit the mark in every part to succeed in a work of art. Sometimes the bits make it all worthwhile.

It's also difficult for me to believe Capote didn't write this. Yeah, drunk, drunk, drunk, worried about losing his talent etc. An editor or amateur doesn't pull this stuff out of a hat with consistency that would fill the 96 pages of the first part.

Skip the idiotic critics all tripping over themselves to write the most eye-catching blurb. It's not x-rated or to replace a shelf of books. Believing that stuff will only toss your expectations in the wrong direction. Capote dissects life with a razor sharp knife and as he cuts he flashes the blade so reflections glint off everything. It's stunning and blinding. INSERT BIG SIGH HERE if only more writers today could stop sucking the seductive sap from the schmaltzy television plot tree and get on with the job of real writing.