Swan Song

Written by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott
Review by Sherry Jones

As it explores the motives behind author Truman Capote’s decision to write a roman à clef betraying the secrets of his longtime confidantes, Swan Song raises intriguing questions: What are the boundaries between fact and fiction? What are artists’ obligations to their art and, in particular, to truth-telling—the essence of art? What does the artist owe to those who inspire her or him? What sacrifices are acceptable or even necessary for the artist to make?

This novel about Truman Capote and his “Swans” as well as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; Kay Graham, publisher of the Washington Post; and actor Lauren Bacall is a star-scattered, decadent read about 1960s New York high society―alcohol-soaked lunches at the Ritz, drug-laced nights at Studio 54, adulterous affairs so intermingled as to be almost incestuous. But this guilty pleasure soon becomes confusing, even disorienting, as the author tries to do too much, telling the stories of a half-dozen women, and, as a result, fails to fully develop the themes that her book raises.

Capote, famous for Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, began work on his tell-all Answered Prayers in 1958, secretly taking notes on his Swans’ lives as each confided in him. When, in 1975, Esquire published four chapters from this unfinished work, the women shunned him. Ostracized, he fell deeply into drug and alcohol abuse, dying at 59.

It’s a sad and sordid ending for a literary genius. But readers will feel little sympathy for this Capote, a sociopath and addict who writes out of desperation for another hit book and publicly attacks his critics. Meanwhile, Answered Prayers has received critical praise as an important chronicle of the lives of wealthy socialites of the time.