by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott
“A boy pampered and indulged well into middle age, courtesy of his unquestioned genius.”
The iconic American author, Truman Capote is remembered best for penning such literary classics as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood – the latter often held to be a watershed in popular culture. He had a flair for self publicity and, throughout the 1960s, was often photographed hobnobbing with the rich and famous in fashionable nightspots. Even as his writing career declined in the following decade, he maintained his celebrity by impishly declaring his brilliance on TV chat shows.
Nobody ever doubted Capote was a gifted and original writer, but he was many other things besides, such as a charming raconteur with a knack for befriending wealthy couples. The glamorous wives in particular, whom he liked to call his Swans, often confided in him, revealing their most intimate secrets. Less easily discernible was the other side to his nature; the bitter, insecure child from Monroeville, Alabama, who believed his mother never loved him. He concealed this skilfully behind an exuberant gush of risqué anecdotes and witty conversation, rising from errand boy at The New Yorker in 1943 to internationally acclaimed novelist, short story writer and dramatist by the late 1950s.
Truman could best be epitomized by the four Cs (those who knew him most intimately would likely add a fifth): camp, catty, course and clever. Though his cleverness notoriously deserted him when he imprudently and very publicly besmirched the reputations of those he had come to rely on so completely as sources of inspiration, influence and adoration. His greatest mistake was betraying their trust by publishing in Esquire two episodes from his uncompleted novel, Answered Prayers, in which many old friends were revealed in all their grotesque prodigality, barely disguised with fictitious names.
Swan Song is a deft, dazzling, diligently researched creation, in which the lives of various members of elite, powerful, old-moneyed families, such as the Roosevelts, Kennedys, Bouviers and Churchills, are verbally dissected over Martini-drenched lunches. Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott spent ten years researching this novel, which was named winner of the 2015 Bridport Prize Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a First Novel, in addition to being shortlisted for the 2015 Myriad Editions First Drafts Competition and the 2015/16 Historical Novel Society New Novel Award. I hope we won’t have to wait so long for her next book.
Many, I am sure, will be captivated by Greenberg-Jephcott’s brilliantly told story, but sadly I struggled to finish it because I simply couldn’t connect with the self-obsessed characters on any level. I found it all but impossible to summon compassion for such a malicious circle of pampered airheads, whose every preposterous, greedy whim was assuaged without scruple, however amusingly or vulnerably presented. They were the Manhattan elite, in their element muckraking over ‘friend’s’ intimate relationships. Truman was in many ways a monster, but he was encouraged in his monstrousness by those who eventually turned on him for publicly exposing their sordid, shallow lives.
Capote died of acute liver failure following a drug overdose at the age of 59 in 1984. He was never forgiven.
Many thanks to Cornerstone for providing an advance review copy of this title.
“How dare the little beast.”