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Novel set mainly in Manhattan – the life and loves of Truman Capote

10th February 2020

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott, novel set mainly in Manhattan.

Novel set mainly in Manhattan

Who was Truman Capote? We all know the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s but who really has engaged with the writer of the novella on which the film was based? He then went on to publish In Cold Blood which made him a national celebrity. Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott has chosen to set him centre stage and build a fictional-factual story of his associations with the 6 Swans –  six socialites and eminent women, strong yet fragile and very much in the limelight of contemporary society. To wit Babe Paley (wife of Bill Paley, then head of CBS and the woman whom Capote truly worshipped), CZ Guest, Marella Agnelli, Slim Keith (a top model, yet who also, like Capote, came from an impoverished background), Lee Radziwill (sister to Jacqueline Kennedy), and Gloria Guinness.

Starting out in life, Capote had more than his fair share of loss and trauma – in essence he was abandoned by his mother who went on to re-invent herself in New York. His childhood companion, however, was none other than Nelle Harper Lee (yes, the novelist). He, too, was busy writing as a child, and there was already an inkling of the future, when a local paper published Mr Busybody, his portrayal of some those in his circle. It was prescient, shall we say.

He never felt loved by his mother but somehow projected his longing to be loved onto the Swans and he felt he could be their one true friend. And here is the crux. He had a very great need to be loved and admired, and this little man, with the high pitched voice, certainly got the attention and status he craved when he held the Black and White Masked Ball in 1966. It was the society event of the year.

He caroused and consorted with these six women from the higher echelons of society, who shared their innermost thoughts and secrets with him, all rather asexual liaisons it has to be said (and I guess if they are some kind of mother substitutes then sex certainly isn’t on the agenda). He was their confidante, a position he royally abused when, in 1975 he wrote an article for Esquire Magazine, titled “La Cote Basque, 1965”. This was the story of Truman’s lunch with Slim – a thinly veiled character appearing as Lady Ina Coolbirth and sketching himself as P B Jones – that ended everything. It was a mean and shockingly bitchy piece. He even describes Jackie Kennedy and Lee Radziwill as a “pair of Western Geisha Girls“.

Yet of Babe Paley he said “I was her one real friend, the one real relationship she ever had.” (New York Post 24.1.16). Note how he has put himself centre stage, just like someone with a developed narcissistic personality disorder (in other words SHE was HIS friend, rather than vice versa). Thus this party boy who sheathed malicious gossip in gilt-edged wit brought about his own downfall.

After his Mother abandoned him he must have felt very ambivalent about women and perhaps was incontrovertibly drawn to them, yet wanted to punish them (and thus perhaps unconsciously punish his mother). A tortured soul who indeed perhaps wasn’t, as he feared, altogether loveable. After all, a caring mother, if she loves her child, wouldn’t abandon her child and therefore she must have abandoned him because he was so unloveable (a common extrapolation that features in people with abandonment issues).

This is a daring debut and a really interesting subject to choose. I felt the writing was very good, though at times just a little disordered, it hopped around a little too much for my full enjoyment. I am looking forward to seeing where this author goes next.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

And if you fancy another immersion into Truman Capote’s life, then look out for The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

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Enter the inaugural TripFiction 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition!

750 - 3000 words with strong 'sense of place' theme

Short story, travelogue, or memoir

Top judges to decide the winners

Cash prizes totalling £500 / $600 

Winning entry published on TripFiction site and publicised on Social Media

Entries close 15th November 2020