" 'La Cote Basque,' the piece that caused such an uproar, is very well done, if you think about it. It's set in a restaurant."
  • " 'La Cote Basque,' the piece that caused such an uproar, is very well done, if you think about it. It's set in a restaurant."
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Truman Capote was hailed as one of the most meticulous writers in American letters — a part of the Capote mystique is that his precise writing seemed to exist apart from his chaotic life. While the measure of Capote as a writer is best taken through his work, Capote the person is best understood in his personal correspondence with friends, colleagues, lovers, and rivals. In Too Brief a Treat, biographer Gerald Clarke brings together for the first time the private letters of Truman Capote. Encompassing more than four decades, these letters reveal the inner life of one of the 20th Century's most intriguing personalities. As Clarke notes in his Introduction, Capote was an inveterate letter writer who both loved and craved love without inhibition. He wrote letters as he spoke: emphatically, spontaneously, and without reservation. He also wrote them at a breakneck pace, unconcerned with posterity. Thus, in this volume we have perhaps the closest thing possible to an elusive treasure: a Capote autobiography. Through his letters to the likes of William Styron, Gloria Vanderbilt, his publishers and editors, his longtime companion and lover Jack Dunphy, and others, we see Capote in all his life's phases — the uncannily self-possessed naïf who jumped headlong into the dynamic post-World War II New York literary scene and the more mature, established Capote of the 1950s. Then there is the Capote of the early 1960s, immersed in the research and writing of his masterpiece, In Cold Blood. Capote's correspondence with Kansas detective Alvin Dewey, and with Perry Smith, one of the killers profiled in that work, demonstrates Capote's intense devotion to his craft, while his letters to friends like Cecil Beaton show Capote giddy with his emergence as a flamboyant mass media celebrity after that book's publication. Finally, we see Capote later in his life, as things seemed to be unraveling: when he is disillusioned, isolated by his substance abuse and by personal rivalries. (Ever effusive with praise and affection, Capote could nevertheless carry a grudge like few others.)


From Publishers Weekly: Considering Truman Capote's fabled social life, one would think that his private letters would be dripping with juicy gossip. Indeed, with correspondents and friends that included Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lee Radziwill, Cecil Beaton, Christopher Isherwood, David O. Selznick, Tennessee Williams, Audrey Hepburn, and Richard Avedon, these bright, energetic missives do include an occasional tasty tidbit. But as candid as Capote can be, one ultimately gets the sense that the author always knew his letters would be read by a wider audience someday, and rarely does Capote express less than bubbling enthusiasm and childlike devotion to his correspondents. It's up to Clarke, Capote's biographer, to fill in the occasionally sordid blanks, which he does in chapter intros and extensive footnotes. Much more profound than any gossip is the humor, sensitivity, and ambition with which Capote seems to have approached every experience in his life.

From The Washington Post's Book World: Truman Capote was born 80 years ago this fall, not exactly the most momentous of anniversaries but one that his publisher has chosen to go overboard for all the same. To celebrate the occasion — which occurs, as it happens, 20 years after Capote's death — the Modern Library imprint of Random House has issued new editions of Capote's first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, and of his The Collected Stories of Truman Capote, and Random House itself now comes forth with Too Brief a Treat, an encyclopedic collection of Capote's letters as edited by his biographer, Gerald Clarke.

All of which is not exactly much ado about nothing, but it certainly is much ado about not very much. Capote was a precocious writer (that first novel was published when he was 24 years old) who never lived up to his promise, though he achieved considerable renown for the literary persona he cultivated as well as some measure of literary respect for his most notable book, the "nonfiction novel" In Cold Blood, which was published in 1966 and enjoys respectable sales to this day. His sentimental short story "A Christmas Memory" now occupies a small place in the holiday canon, but apart from that he appears to be a writer whose work is on the way out, and Too Brief a Treat is most unlikely to bring him back in.

Clarke tells us that Capote was "a writer of stern and unsmiling discipline," but little of this comes across in the letters. What the reader mostly gets from them is an itinerary of Capote's endless peregrinations, a long succession of dropped names few of which any longer have currency, and an insider's chronicle of life in what Capote called "the Lavender Hill mob" — the transatlantic gay crowd of writers, artists, musicians, theatrical types, and hangers-on in which Capote became a major player when he was very young and remained one for the rest of his life.


Gerald Clarke, born in 1937 in Los Angeles, graduated from Yale, majoring in English and American literature. He is the author of Capote: A Biography and Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland. He has written for many publications, including Architectural Digest, Time (where he was a senior writer), and Esquire. He now lives in Bridgehampton, New York.


Mr. Clarke spoke to me one afternoon from his home in Bridgehampton. The weather was warm on his coast and mine. We chatted lazily, in a manner I suppose the younger Capote might have enjoyed.

One person to whom Capote wrote letters for many years was a fellow named Andrew Lyndon. "Who," I asked Mr. Clarke, "is or was Andrew Lyndon?"

"Well, Andrew Lyndon, he's now dead, but he was a writer who never amounted to too much as a writer. I mention him in my biography. I gave a little description of him. He came from Macon, Georgia. He was gay. He's a little older than Truman; I don't know his exact age. He was in World War II. He fought in Italy."

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