For Capote, whose best writing days were long behind him by then and who lived more or less as a professional socialite, it was the end. “He had no stature socially speaking,” said the novelist John Knowles. “He had no family. He was only an ornament. There was nothing for him to fall back on.” From then on Capote, the ex-boy wonder, completed no further books and turned increasingly to alcohol and drugs, before dying nine years later in 1984 from liver disease and drug intoxication.
Capote’s public decline was particularly tragic, but there is sadness woven into all these feuds, even – especially – the most vicious: one journalist interviewing Michel Houllebecq’s mother about her book said that it was “painfully clear” that it was “her way of trying to reach out to him”. From Capote to Houellebecq, BD Hyman to Margaret Salinger, these are people who wrote not just their own stories but other people’s stories, sacrificing their family lives for a writer’s pleasure in getting published. Yet it doesn’t seem, in most cases, to have made them happy. Did they get what they wanted? To borrow the saying of St Teresa from which Truman Capote took the title of his scandalous work, more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.
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