Monday, October 20, 2008

Review: Capote in Kansas

Summary: Truman Capote and Harper Lee were children when they met. Twenty-five years later, Capote had taken New York's literary world by storm, while Lee struggled to put pen to paper and sweat out the story of her childhood in the same city. They would reunite in the desolate plains of Kansas to create In Cold Blood. And they would start talk of an even greater mystery: What happened between them — and who really wrote To Kill a Mockingbird? How did two innocents from a backwoods Southern town achieve such fame, and why did they stop speaking to one another? Kim Powers has conjured a death-bed confession from Capote, in which he picks up the phone to Harper Lee one last time to tell her is being haunted — a tale she doesn't believe, until she is forced to. What do the ghosts of the Clutters want, as they appear one by one to confess their secrets and their anger to the most unlikely mediums of Capote and Lee? Capote in Kansas is an unforgettable "what might have been" — a fantasia of ghosts seeking resolve and revenge, and memories and regret for a past that was, that will never be again. -- Carroll and Graf

I can't remember where I first saw the novel CAPOTE IN KANSAS by Kim Powers, but I do know that I added it to my "Must-Read" list. I even exchanged an e-mail or two with the author because I was just fascinated by the idea for this book. So a few months ago when I saw the announcement by TLC Book Tours that they were hosting a blog tour for CAPOTE IN KANSAS, I was just thrilled. I knew I had to be part of it. (Thank goodness, I was selected to participate!)

Two of my all-time favorite books are IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. I read both of them when I was in high school, and I have continued to read them throughout my adulthood. They are just so good! It wasn't until fairly recently that I learned that Capote and Lee were childhood friends. I also just found out that Ms. Lee was with Mr. Capote in Kansas when he was researching the murders for his book IN COLD BLOOD. I have to admit that I don't know much about the lives of either author, but I am fascinated by their ties.

Mr. Powers' CAPOTE IN KANSAS is a fictional account of what happens when the ghosts of the murdered farm family begin to visit Mr. Capote and Ms. Lee. The cover of the book states that this is "A Ghost Story," but I thought there was so much more to this book than that. I wouldn't consider myself a big fan of ghost stories, but I thoroughly enjoyed this novel (even with the appearance of a few ghosts.) If I'm being totally honest, I'm not even sure that I interpreted the ghosts in this story to be "real." Both Capote and Lee were definitely affected by the time they spent in Kansas researching IN COLD BLOOD, and I think times like this stay with you the rest of your life. I think we all have our share of "ghosts" from our past that continue to "haunt" us -- you can interpret it however you see fit.

What I loved about this novel was Mr. Powers' ability to develop such wonderful and memorable characters. Because the characters in this book are very famous and well-known figures, I think taking on a fictional account of their lives would be extremely difficult because the reader already has so many preconceived notions (especially with all the recent movies about Capote's life.) I especially loved getting an inside view in Ms. Lee's personality since I wasn't as familiar with her (and she is one of my all-time favorite authors.) This book definitely piqued my curiosity about these two amazing writers, and I am anxious to read some non-fiction books about them now.

I think most people know that Truman Capote was a larger than life person, and Mr. Powers created a character that totally fit with my image of him. Towards the end of Capote's life, he evidently was drinking a great deal as well as taking some drugs. He was also a very complex, troubled man who was looking back over his life (and I have to wonder if he wasn't having some regrets.) I'm sure that his substance abuse issues could explain away his ghost sightings, but it's definitely something for the reader to ponder. Another thing that I found fascinating was how Mr. Powers' chose to incorporate Capote's artistic "snake boxes" as well as his fascination with snakes into the story. I thought the author did an extremely good job with merging fact and fiction!

Some of my favorite parts of the story were about Harper Lee and her sister. Since I know almost nothing about Lee, I was fascinated by anything and everything about her (even if the book was fiction.) Like tons of other readers, I have always been disappointed that Ms. Lee never wrote another book after TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Mr. Powers helped to explain the not only some of the "whys" behind this mystery, but also proposed another idea -- some have claimed that Capote actually wrote Lee's amazing work (please, say it isn't so!)

Another great (and real) character in this story was Capote's housekeeper Myrtle. I thought she was a terrific character, and many of her scenes with Capote provided some humor into the book. Even though a few of them were rather far-fetched, I still enjoyed them and found myself laughing at the absurdity of Capote's life. I loved the relationship that Powers' created between Myrtle and Capote, and I was saddened that she actually was ill and died before Capote.

I really enjoyed this book, and I have found myself thinking about it a great deal even after I finished it. (Isn't that usually a sign of a really good book?) I do think this book would make for an excellent book club discussion, especially if there are some fans of either TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD or IN COLD BLOOD! My book club actually read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD a few years ago, so I'll see what they think about giving CAPOTE IN KANSAS a try. There is a reading guide available with some very thought-provoking questions.

I'm afraid that this review only skimmed the surface of this novel. CAPOTE IN KANSAS is a very deep novel with many layers and recurring themes. If you are like me and love these authors, I strongly suggest reading this novel! It is a beautiful story of a childhood friendship gone bad. There are just so many interesting concepts to think about -- redemption, forgiveness, regret, etc. This book is not only entertaining, but it will definitely make you think too!

If you want to see what some other readers are saying about CAPOTE IN KANSAS, you can check out the rest of Kim Powers’ TLC Book Tours' TOUR STOPS:

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

Make sure you come back tomorrow because Kim Powers will be joining Booking Mama with his own guest post!


Anonymous said...

I thought this book was great, too. I wonder how someone who is not familiar with Truman Capote and Harper Lee and their relationship would enjoy it, though.

S. Krishna said...

My question is, would I still appreciate this book if I haven't read In Cold Blood?

Ti said...

This book sounds really good. I'm like you. I adored Mockingbird and had the opportunity to read In Cold Blood just a couple of years ago and it was so well written that it has really stayed with me.

Julie P. said...

S. Krishna - I don't think it's necessary at all to have read IN COLD BLOOD, but I do think if you are somewhat familiar with the authors the book would "mean" more.

S. Krishna said...

::Sigh::...I was afraid of that. Looks like this one is going to go WAAAY down on the TBR list, under In Cold Blood!

melanie said...

ooh, now you've got me all excited. for a quick read on Harper Lee, i recommend the biography I am Scout (it's for teens, which made it quicker) :) thanks for the great review.

Anna said...

I'd never read anything by Capote or Lee when I picked up this book. I still was able to enjoy it. And I agree that Myrtle was a great character. I laughed out loud reading a couple of her scenes. Great review!

Diary of an Eccentric

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When truman called a third night in a row, Nelle wasn't surprised. She'd been expecting, even looking forward to, the voice that sounded more southern with each successive call, forcing herself to stay awake even though her pills had begun to kick in and draw her to sleep. By now Truman's ghosts were becoming hers as well she was afraid of sleep for almost the first time in her life, afraid those same phantoms might be on the other side of her closed eyelids.

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