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#113 ~ Capote in Kansas

Capote in Kansas: A Ghost Story by Kim Powers

It is my great honor and pleasure to be the host of Kim Powers’ last stop on his absolutely fabulous book tour for Capote in Kansas, which is sponsored by TLC Book Tours.  For more information on this tour, please click on the TLC logo to the left or select the links that interest you from the listing at the end of this review.  I only hope that my review today is only half as good as the stops that went before me.  Now, on to my review…

There are times when fate conspires to bring two people together only to tear them apart.  This is true of Nelle Harper Lee and Truman Capote.  Truman’s mother, who had no time or interest in her eccentric son, sent him to live with his family in Monroeville, Alabama.  Nelle grew up next door.  She was not blind to his idiosyncrasies.  in fact, she understood and cared for him like no one else.  Nelle was there for him to type up his stories when they were children and to help him connect with people in Kansas while he worked on In Cold Blood.  Their bond, however, was not indestructible.  Although they complement each other in many ways, it is the ways in which they are alike that drives a wedge between them.  It was a distance that might only be bridged by the ghosts from their past.

There is much to love about this novel, but what struck me the most was the impact that writing about another person can have on both the author and the subject.  Truman Capote was most definitely in search of fame when he made the decision to write about the Clutter family after their tragic and brutal murders in Kansas.  He was haunted by their ghosts later in life because they did not want the attention In Cold Blood brought to them, even though they were deceased at the time.  Lee, on the other hand, wrote her neighbor into To Kill a Mockingbird in the form of Boo Radley as a tribute to him.  His family never understood her intentions and blamed her for the disruptions her fans made in his life.  Whether a depiction is fictional or biographical, putting a person down on paper proved to be the equivalent of stealing that person’s soul.  That Lee was sensitive to this from the beginning while Capote didn’t start confronting it until his work caused him to be ostracized from New York society – and even then not fully until it was forced upon him as his life was in a downward spiral – fleshes these characters out fully. By choosing to explore this theme within a novel about two of the most famous and influential American authors in recent time makes this novel fresh, engaging, and memorable.

Although I had read To Kill a Mockingbird prior to reading Capote in Kansas, I knew very little about Lee or Capote when I opened this novel.  I did not know about their friendship or that there was a rift that tore them apart.  In the novel, Capote and his actions were responsible for their estrangement, but it wouldn’t have happened at all were it not for the personal and professional insecurities of they both shared.  I found this story fascinating, especially as Powers told it from within the context of the midnight phone calls, the memories, and the ghosts who visited them both in the middle of the night.  Whatever the reality of their friendship may have been, I left this novel hoping that they were able to make peace with each other before Capote’s death.

I read this novel over the course of a single day.  It was interesting and compelling throughout.  It was with satisfaction that I finished the novel and closed the back cover.  It’s clear from his writing that Powers’ respects his characters and is compassionate yet honest when dealing with their flaws.  I found that it was not necessary to have much knowledge of Lee and Capote to be swept up by their star crossed friendship and to experience their pain as life, love, and childhood loyalties do not work out as they had planned.  Despite some potential spoilers about the Clutter family and their killers found within Capote in Kansas, I’m now genuinely interested in reading Capote’s most famous work.  I typically avoid books about real-life murders because they get under my skin and give me nightmares.  Now, I am curious to see what more it might reveal about him.  I have no regrets.

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For more about Capote in Kansas and author Kim Powers, please check out the previous stops on this book tour:

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

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To buy this novel, click here.

8 Comments

  • At 2008.10.29 07:56, bermudaonion said:

    Thanks for the review. I’ve been wondering how someone who doesn’t know much about Truman and Nelle’s relationship would like it.
    I truly, truly loved it and now I can write a review later about In Cold Blood that is colored by Powers’ writing. I’m looking forward to that.

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      • At 2008.10.29 13:30, Matthew said:

        This is a very thoughtful review Jennifer. The wedge between them is what I think has haunted them over the years. Take, for example, how Truman’s carping on her has made her feel so insecure about her own writing.
        You are right about that. Being passive-aggressive is definitely one way to deflect your own insecurities. I also wonder if that is what made her unwilling or unable to open up to him after they went to that club. What were your thoughts about that section?

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        • At 2008.10.31 08:33, Anna said:

          Great review! I was worried about reading a fiction novel about a real-life person who’s still alive, and I agree that Powers was respectful and compassionate. I hadn’t read either Capote or Lee, and I found I was still able to enjoy the book.

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          • At 2008.10.31 21:18, Darlene said:

            Great review Jennifer. This is one I’d like to read some day. The books shelves just keep building.

            • […] Wednesday, Oct. 29th: Literate Housewife […]

              • […] one of my favorite books of my 37th year was Capote in Kansas: A Ghost Story by Kim Powers. Here is a link to my review.  If you are a fan of  Truman Capote and/or Harper Lee, you will love this […]

                • […] since I read Capote In Kansas by Kim Powers, I’ve wanted to read In Cold Blood. The problem is, I’m kind of a baby […]

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