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[158] Capote in Kansas – Kim Powers

3rd Stop of the TLC Book Tour
Publisher: Perseus Publishing
254 pp
Kim Powers website
Paperback October 4, 2008

“She still believed what some nearly extinct tribal cultures had professed when they first saw cameras: that every photograph taken of you robbed you of a bit of your soul. And these pictures, inside and outside of the box, had taken away a large portion of hers.” [61]

Capote in Kansas draws on scattered events of truman Capote and Harper Lee’s childhood in Monroeville, Alabama and their reunion over two decades later in Kansas. Almost twenty five years after they conducted research on the murder of the Clutters, the best friends stop talking to each other. The novel, a fantasy that combines documented events and Powers’ imagination, seeks to answer the question of what might have caused the rift in their friendship.

It begins with Capote’s death-bed confession in the form of a phone call to Lee in the middle of the night. It’s a S.O.S. call to his friend that the ghosts of the Clutters come back to seek revenge for the human rights they lost when the murder case piqued him to write In Cold Blood. As much as the book claims to be a ghost story, this is about all the actions of the spirits. The ghosts, be they real apparitions or hallucinations, do not actually advance the plot of the novel. They revive memories of the past that the writers have banished from their thoughts.

As much of a mess Truman Capote has become—consumed by drugs and alcohol—he manages to send Harper Lee these creepy messages in cardboard boxes that demonstrate not only effort of artistry but also the burning desire to get squared. The series of sinister packages with occasional gruesome contents along with the ghost talk, rather than spooking her, lead her to question Capote’s intentions. I would go as far to assert that, being entrapped by painful memories of their meeting in Kansas, they have estranged one another. They are themselves the ghosts who linger on and have unfinished business with one another. The strength of the novel is how Powers adroitly nails the best of Harper Lee’s bitterness and insecurities because of Capote’s sabotage of her novel. What Truman had sone to her, out of his self-inflated ego, made her doubt if she actually wrote “The Book” herself.

ow could two people, once best friends, once soul mates, be so different: Nelle had published one book, and then deliberately faded into woodwork; Truman didn’t even wait for one to come out, and had already started planning the guest list.” [205]

Lee’s insecurity is also underpinned by her sister’s sneaking around the attic to look for proof of authorship. Why didn’t she write another book for twenty five years? The doubt that has hovered on the edge of her sister’s consciousness is exactly what Lee communicates to her dead brother in the letters. So much that the Capote in Kansas professes to be a ghost story, it’s more of a tale about friendship, regret, reconciliation and coming to terms to self. It doesn’t add to what we already know of the writers; but the well-written book, full of imaginary scenes, is still worthy of perusal.

About the author: Kim Powers is an Emmy- and Peabody-winning writer who’s worked at both ABC’s Good Morning America and Primetime. He lives in New York City. He can be reached at his website: kimpowersbooks.com

Official TLC Book Tours blog.
Also Hosting Kim Powers:

Wednesday, Oct. 1st: Bookgirl’s Nightstand
Friday, Oct. 3rd: Book Room Reviews
Monday, Oct. 6th: A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook
Wednesday, Oct. 8th: Tripping Toward Lucidity
Friday, Oct. 10th: book-a-rama
Monday, Oct. 13th: Ready When You Are, C.B.
Wednesday, Oct. 15th: Bibliolatry
Friday, Oct. 17th: Books and Movies
Monday, Oct. 20th: Booking Mama
Wednesday, Oct. 22nd: Diary of an Eccentric
Thursday, Oct. 23rd: Maw Books
Friday, Oct. 24th: Book Club Classics
Monday, Oct. 27th: Books and Cooks
Tuesday, Oct. 28th: Devourer of Books
Wednesday, Oct. 29th: Literate Housewife

20 Responses

  1. I think I will like this; many thanks for sharing your fascinating and keen-edged insights. This is a 4-star review.

  2. Great review Matt. You touched upon the insecurities caused by her sister which I had almost forgotten about. I thought they had such an interesting relationship as well.

  3. Another book to consider for my book pile. 🙂

  4. Funny you review this book, which was greeting me right when I walked into Books Inc. the other day. I’m not very savvy of the details of their friendship so this would be an informative as well as intriguing read for me.

  5. Matt–Thanks for this review! I’m planning to check this one out. I’ve always liked Harper Lee, so this one sounds intriguing.

  6. […] Original post by A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook […]

  7. Matthew–The opening sounds very interesting. It peaks my interest in Harper Lee. She was also a good friend of Margo Jones(theatre director/producer), who also befriended and helped Tennessee Williams in the beginning of his writing career. I think I will need to go back to the Helen Sheehy’s biography of Margo Jones to refresh the details on their friendship–and Jones’ encouragement of Lee’s writing career. Too bad her writing career was so lean–very curious, despite her huge success with Mockingbird. Like Jean Toomer and “Cane”.

  8. Yay! I loved this book. Just finished it and reviewed it today, and Kim Powers will be guest posting at my place tomorrow. Great review as always, Matt!

  9. I am really looking forward to reading this. I keep thinking that I have some time, but I really need to get started. I was hoping to read In Cold Blood first, but I know it won’t get done… 😉 Great post as usual, my friend! I’m glad to be on this tour with you.

  10. Thoughtful review, Matt! Capote remained a lifelong friend with Harper Lee, and he based the character of Idabel in Other Voices, Other Rooms on her. He in turn was the inspiration for the character Dill. I would be very interested in this imaginary rift as you have described in the novel.

  11. Greg S:
    Thank you! You’re always so kind! 🙂

  12. Iliana:
    I think the book is more about their being haunted by their own insecurities. 🙂

  13. Greg:
    Have you finished Dancer From the Dance?

  14. John:
    I think Books Inc actually has the book marked down for promotion. If you don’t know much about the friendship between the two, you’ll really enjoy it. It’s well-written.

  15. Karin:
    I have to check out Truman Capote’s books, especially The Answered Prayers in which he exposed these social elites that he knew in New York City! Literary gossips! 🙂

  16. Rick:
    Always thoughtful and insightful Rick! Thanks for mentioning Margo Jones’ biography, which I’m very interested in reading. I am really curious about why she hasn’t written anything afterwards. Any chance of unpublished manuscripts buried in her house somewhere?

  17. Andi:
    Now I need to jump over to see your review and Kim’s guest post! 🙂

  18. Literate Housewife:
    I was thinking the same thing–to read In Cold Blood, but I’ve got my hand full of things, plus the quick hop over to Hong Kong. But you’ll enjoy the book regardless. Great to be on the tour with you as well! 🙂

  19. Ken:
    Happy Birthday my friend! What are you bringing with you to Carmel?

  20. […] Monday, Oct. 6th: A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook […]

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