I want to say at the start that I generally don’t like reading unfinished books. There just doesn’t seem to be much of a point until things are done; the magic hasn’t been set into place yet. Given that, I probably shouldn’t have decided to look at Answered Prayers by Truman Capote. However, I did. I am a fan of Capote’s work and I wanted to see.
(For those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 1st for Douglas Coupland)
This is Capote’s famous unfinished work. He first contracted to write the book in 1966. This kept getting moved and it was still unfinished in 1984 when Capote died. In fact, there are only (as far as anyone knows for sure) the three sections that he’d pretty much written right away and published individually. Nothing more (as far as anyone knows for sure) was every written. Given the Proustian goals Capote supposedly had for the book, I have a hard time considering what we have as any significant portion at all. Whether it completely stalled because of the reaction by the rich against what Capote revealed, other projects, or his own self-destruction, there just isn’t much there.
So what is there? As I said, three sections. We have P.B. Jones, a man supposedly trying to be a writer but by his own admission more a bisexual hustler and hanger on of the rich. He is always mindful of what he can use people for, which isn’t so bad considering the kind of people he uses. He observes and reveals.
For example, Jones meets an important editor and figures out that the editor is attracted to him. He goes to the editor’s office hoping to play that to help his writing career. The editor’s words about the work Jones shows him are polite, but certainly not good. They are also accurate.
Nevertheless, the gentleman had knee-punched me with aching accuracy. He had my number; I was no longer so sure I had his. At the time I was immune to the mechanical vices—seldom smoked, never drank. But now, without permission, I selected a cigarette from a nearby tortoise-shell box; ad I lighted it, all the matches in the matchbook exploded. A tiny bonfire erupted in my hand. I jumped up, wringing my hand and whimpering.
My host merely and coolly pointed at the fallen, still-flaming matches. He said: “Careful. Stamp that out. You’ll damage the carpet.” Then: “Come here. Give me your hand.”
His lips parted. Slowly his mouth absorbed my index finger, the one most scorched. He plunged the finger into the depths of his mouth, almost withdrew, plunged again—like a huntsman drawing dangerous liquid from a snakebite. Stopping, he asked: “There. Is that better?”
The seesaw had upended; a transference of power had occurred, or so I was foolish enough to believe.
“Much; thank you.”
“Very well,” he said, rising to bolt the office door. “Now we shall continue the treatment.”
Good? Yes. One of the best books of all time? I don’t see how given the tiny fragments we have of what was intended. This is actually first on Douglas Coupland’s list. I understand that even less. There just isn’t enough of Answered Prayers to evaluate.
There is still some great writing in Answered Prayers, but it is so definitely unfinished. I can see this as interesting for studying Capote, or what happened in Capote trying to write the book, or any of that…but not much more. I don’t care so much about what he reveals about the rich, and I think that’s part of the interest for some. The phenomenon of the Answered Prayers is simply more interesting than the book itself. As for the book, we never got enough of it for it to be really that interesting to me. It’s important if you want to be complete on Capote, but Answered Prayers will never be on any of my favorite lists.