"All literature is gossip." - Truman Capote
ANSWERED PRAYERS from False Gods* by Lionel A. Biron
During the 1970s Esquire published excerpts from a novel in progress, Answered Prayers, which was still unfinished when Capote died on August 25, 1984. The following review based on excerpts published in ESQUIRE magazine appeared in THE MIDWEST GAY ACADEMIC JOURNAL in the Spring of 1977 after ESQUIRE had published these four installments: "Mojave" (June 1975), "La Côte Basque" (November 1975), "Unspoiled Monsters" (May 1976), and "Kate McCloud" (December 1976).
Uninhibitable gay, Truman Capote emerged from New Orleans obscurity with the publication in 1949 of his first novel, OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS, at the age of 24. The novel was an international literary success, and provided the Louisiana faggot with a front-rank position among American writers of the post-World War II generation – a position he has maintained with other works, including THE GRASS HARP, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, and IN COLD BLOOD, a meticulously factual account of a small town Kansas murder case. A "darling" of TV talk shows, he made his movie debut last year in Neil Simon's MURDER BY DEATH.
And now, ANSWERED PRAYERS...
To ascetic Christian myths, we prefer lusty Greek mythology where Olympian gods fly about in chariots intervening in human affairs sometimes just to raise hell and satisfy their all-too-human carnal desires.
One small step from the golden charioteers to today's supersonic jet-setters who sometimes meddle in our lives just to raise hell and satisfy their all-too human carnal desires.
Truman Capote's new novel, ANSWERED PRAYERS, only partially serialized to date, presents devastating glimpses of the rich and beautiful people such as Lady Ina Coolbirth, Kate McCloud, Gloria Vanderbilt di Cicco, Stokowski Lumet Cooper, Madame Marmalade, Jackie O and Lee, to drop just a few names that belong to the world of Vendura cuff links, Cartier watches, and gold Tiffany toothpicks.
Real and imaginary beautiful people hobnob in the novel. When they talk what we hear is quite often racy: Tallulah Bankhead, asked by Dorothy Parker (reported in the December 1976 Esquire installment) whether Montgomery Cliff is a cock-sucker, replies with characteristic drawl, "Well, d-d darling, I r-r-really wouldn't know. He never sucked my cock."
When they drink a good many are swaggering lushes: Lady Coolbirth orders a second bottle of the best champagne (Roederer's Cristal) for lunch at the fashionable La Côte Basque.
When they sex, they are noticeably unconventional: many pages are devoted to homosexuals like Denny Fouts, the "Best-Kept Boy in the World," who passes through the hands of American industrialists and European nobility, and Ned Rorem, the "Quaker Queer" Midwestern composer, who also serves as a "diving dildo" (read: gigolo) for "female checkbooks" to use the vernacular of P.B. Jones, who himself is an employee of the Self Service, a slick "Dial a Dick" Big Apple operation.
If male homosexuality is here presented as a consumable bisexual delicacy of the buyer-buy-all decadent ruling class, female homosexuality does at least offer one respite from the novel's blatantly satirical hereto/homo-sexism.
From a radical Feminist perspective, one segment of La Côte Basque is particularly interesting. Lady Ina Coolbirth explains how she married a dull, humorless "lucrative catch" for economic reasons ("No, not for sex"). And although she herself "cannot live without a man," she talks about the life of a lesbian friend with conspicuous envy!
After five husbands, one retarded child, several hundred breakdowns, and weighing only ninety pounds, Anita Hohnsbeen is sent by her doctor to Santa Fe, "the dyke capital of the United States."
While there Anita meets a lesbian, Comes Out, and decides to settle down in the area with her lesbian lover, Megan O'Meaghan. "Anita looks," says Ina Coolbirth, "almost as clear-eyed as she did when we were in school together... It's one of the pleasantest homes I've ever been in. Lucky Anita!" She is one of the very few people who leaves the city for the country (a recurring theme of the novel), and gets her unprayed for answer.
"St. Teresa of Avila commented 'More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones" says Alice Lee Langman to P.B. Jones -- the gigolo-narrator of Capote's novel who has written a devastatingly unsuccessful book entitled (you guessed it) ANSWERED PRAYERS. What's the point of this novel? "The theme moving through your work, as nearly as I can locate it," says Alice to P.B., "is of people achieving a desperate aim only to have it rebound upon them, accentuating, and accelerating, their destruction."
A few of the beautiful people were rather displeased with Truman's antics. After all, if they invited him to their exclusive parties, it wasn't to have their names smeared across the pages of ESQUIRE. Oh, wasn't it?
"I thought it was hi-larious!" Truman said in Warhol's INTERVIEW magazine last April. "I think they loved it. I only know one person who didn't like it well, two, actually."
For making Art of their small talk, shouldn't they be eternally grateful to Mr. C?
And just because the beautiful people are in Capote's novel, doesn't mean the novel is about them. But such aesthetic considerations bore us as much as ascetics. We want to be entertained, and for that we need bona fide gossip. One example: Did you hear what Capote had to say about the scotch whiskey baron, Joe Kennedy? Absolutely shocking!
ALL LITERATURE IS GOSSIP
"All literature is gossip," Capote is quoted as saying in the December 1976 PLAYBOY. And the author of IN COLD BLOOD can spin gossip like Homer before him. He gossips with style by skillfully blending pure and adulterated truth.
Truman's aesthetics can best be understood from the perspective of a gay lifestyle which accepts the fact that rigid female/male gender roles rest on a foundation of quicksand. "Truth as illusion," is what ANSWERED PRAYERS is all about, says P.B. Jones in Capote's novel. "As truth is nonexistent," he argues, it can never be anything but illusion, but illusion, the by-product of revealing artifice, can reach the summits nearer the unattainable peak of Perfect Truth. For example, female impersonators. The impersonator is in fact a man (truth), until he re-creates himself as a woman (illusion) and of-the two, the illusion is the truer."
This distinction may appear more complex when elsewhere Capote designates Jackie Kennedy as a female impersonator, to which in passing I can add the name of Mae West.
Female/male drag, TV, and transexualism, so often condemned as bourgeois decadence by the not so new New Left, provide from a radically gay perspective, a sound basis in praxis for a dialectical (read: dynamic) world view. A feminist consciousness, often reflected in the awareness of the social significance of cross-gender dress and behavior is essential if one is to stop simply talking revolution and start living it.
Why are we so fascinated by these "Unspoiled Monsters" as Capote himself labels the beautiful people? Why do we permit them liberties we too readily deny ourselves? Could it be that like the ancient Greeks, we are hypnotized by gods of our own creation?
The jet-set, unlike ourselves, has escaped the capitalist rat-race, and is reaping the rewards of our efforts. Since our winner-take-all Grand Lottery Weltanschauun does require a few visible winners, the filthy rich and their court of beautiful people provide us with the necessary few.
Consequently we, the self-declared losers, are reduced to admiring their inanities with the same intensity as did the Greeks the super human feats of their gods. In short, these "unspoiled monsters" have become our living gods with that absolute power over human destiny (our one and only lives) which, in "our" capitalist system, only money can buy.
Is it then any wonder that Truman Capote tantalizes us with his literary gossip? We are guilty of a realistic fallacy that confuses far more than Art with Life. To make visible the edge surrounding our reality is to begin to see it for what it is just another time-worn myth among many (Olympian myth, Christian myth, Capitalist myth) to be evaluated and soon discarded for yet another reality whose border remains unseen.
Hopefully a new mythology will do away with casting people as either winners or losers. Until then, Capote's hot new novel and Warhol's splashy INTERVIEW magazine are here to keep us posted on the very latest high society gossip – our answered prayers from false gods.
* review published in "The Midwest Gay Academic Journal,"1977(editor, Dan Tsang). Biron ©1977. All Rights Reserved.