Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era

Putnam. Oct. 2021. 368p. ISBN 9780593328088. $28. BIOG
Perhaps biographer Leamer (The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family) has found the missing aspect of Truman Capote’s last work—that being Capote himself. Leamer’s work begins as an effort to examine the subjects and substance of Capote’s famed, unfinished novel, Answered Prayers, but it’s ultimately an examination of Capote’s obsessions. Capote’s “swans” were women of unbelievable ability and self-understanding whose wealth, taste, and scandals fed Capote’s imagination. These women included Barbara “Babe” Paley, Gloria Guinness, Marella Agnelli, Slim Keith, Pamela Harriman, C. Z. Guest, and Lee Radziwill. Central to their beauty was their performance, Leamer writes, and the women themselves were “the ultimate piece of performance art,” an art shared by Capote as one of the first openly gay men to dominate the headlines. Juxtaposing Capote’s life against those of the women who fascinated him and exploring the novelist’s capacity for friendship and betrayal, Leamer’s prose is as tantalizing as the lives he studies. This juicy and engrossing narrative recaps the swans’ and Capote’s transgressions within the historical context of gender, politics, and economics.
VERDICT A must-read for fans of Capote. Leamer’s carefully curated blend of gossip and citation is sure to also engross anyone interested in midcentury New York society.
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