October 22, 2008

The Observer: Truman Capote

Since I've been in D.C., I've been reading a lot of Truman Capote. It started when I was feeling unsettled, living out of boxes, and felt an odd sort of solidarity with Holly Golightly, the sad heroine of Breakfast at Tiffany's. I reread it, and I loved it even more than the first time: Holly's unceasing movement and strange energy, all summed up in the carefree and tragic word "travelling"; the magnetic attraction everyone feels towards her, that ultimately betrays them. (I love the movie too--but it is such a chick flick. Hepburn is fine, but the story is changed so much that I consider them entirely different works.)

After I finished that, I grabbed his book of essays, Portraits and Observations from the library, and have been reading through it since. Hardly a reviewer or critic fails to mention his tragic personal life, about which I know nothing. I do know, he's just a marvelous writer, and his eccentric personality shows through his observations.

I've enjoyed everything I have read in this--even his self absorbed self-interviews (can I blame him...what is a meme, anyway). But best of all, I love his short little portraits of different personalities.

He has a three of four page profile of Elizabeth Taylor, which I particularily liked. He described her as essentially innocent ("if you sleep with a guy, gosh, that means you have to marry him!")--but thoughtful, well read, and not at all pretentious. It ends with a spectacular scene involving, primarily, a drunk Richard Burton and Taylor bickering ("at least he's worth quarrelling with"). Capote is the all but invisible observer, quietly drinking his champagne.

Apparently, the New York Times, when they reviewed Portraits and Observations, thought of this piece as "froth"--but I find Capote most fascinating and compelling when he is describing personalities--whether of a movie star, or an aristocrat in Martinque, or a cat lady in rural Conneticut. NYT can call it froth, but I loved it.

Unfortunately, Portraits and Observations is not online anywhere, or I'd give you a snippet, but I am sure they have the book at local libraries. You can buy the book here.

(Image from a magnificent slideshow of Richard Avedon's work, in the New Yorker. As it happens, Avedon and Capote did a book together, pairing Avedon's pictures with Capote's words. Many of those essays are found in Portraits and Observations.)

No comments:

Post a Comment