Capote in Kansas
Although the release dates were a coincidence, Capote in Kansas is quite timely, with the Capote movie recently in theaters. However, given the intensity of the material, I find it preferable to read the story, with plenty of time for reflection on its insights. Author Ande Parks is best known for his comics inking, but based on the skill demonstrated here, I’d gladly read more written by him.
Truman Capote went to Kansas to research a murder where two men killed a farm family after robbing them. Capote eventually turned the story into In Cold Blood, his “non-fiction novel”. In this fictionalized version of the events surrounding the book’s creation, Chris Samnee’s art is appropriately moody and atmospheric. His use of silhouette is so impressive that the shadows become character, and he establishes setting and character through just the right scene or gesture. He builds a rich, full world through detail, grounding the more fantastic elements. The pages are engrossing, inviting lingering attention.
When the reader is introduced to Capote, he’s in the middle of a swank dinner party, where he’s outrageously (remember, this is 1959) flirting with the waiter. His companions are other writers, whom he needles one after the other into leaving. From the beginning, he’s clearly a difficult personality wrapping a rarefied world around himself. He makes other people dislike him so he can feel in control of their rejection, claiming he caused it.
The scene is also a reminder to the reader of just how different the world was then compared to now, and how stories like the one he told made it that way. From the start, he’s obviously a fish out of water… and he does his best to make sure everyone knows it. Even his choice of project is another way to make things all about him. Few can tolerate his self-centeredness, and one of the few, childhood friend Harper Lee, accompanies him on the start of the trip.
Someone who’s spent so long repressing his own emotions — because of the culture of the times and his hurt over an absent father, among other reasons — seems shocked when confronted with the more bedrock honesty of the townspeople, especially the investigating agent. They think he’s trying to use them, and they’re right, at the beginning. He bulls in, expecting the world to give him what he wants, and the book captures the way he comes to think outside of himself. Their first rejection of him, one he can’t control, evokes past rejections, until he realizes that they have cause.
Like many young successes, Capote didn’t start out having to make much effort to benefit from his gift. Here, he learns the hard work of being a writer, as well as how to make connections in spite of differences. Although he demands respect for his eccentricities, at first, he has trouble giving it to others. He struggles deeply to create something that is capable of living beyond himself. In order to change others through his work, he has to allow the material to change himself first.
The end of the book suggests that creating In Cold Blood took so much out of Capote that he willingly chose the socialite life of parties that prevented him from doing another major work. Capote in Kansas is a compelling portrait of the challenges facing a creator in making art.
(Since this review was written, Capote in Kansas has been reissued in a hardcover edition.)