Nobody can match George Plimpton as an adroit weaver of interviews into a tight narrative fabric. Plimpton can make even a negligible life into a magic-carpet ride, as in his editing of Jean Stein's perennial bestseller, Edie, about Andy Warhol's victim-starlet Edie Sedgwick.
In Truman Capote, Plimpton has an infinitely more important subject, who worked his way down from the top into the shallow pit of druggy celebrity. His book doesn't knock the definitive biography Capote off the shelf, but it's much more fun to read. Plimpton interviewed more than a hundred people--from Capote's childhood to his peak period, 1966, when his Black and White Ball defined high society and In Cold Blood launched the true crime genre, all the way down to his last, sad days as a bitchy caricature of himself. Joanna Carson complains that Plimpton's book is "gossip," which it gloriously is. But it's also brimming with important literary history, and it helps in the Herculean task of sorting out the truth from Capote's multitudinous, entertaining lies; for instance, In Cold Blood turns out to be not strictly factual. James Dickey, whose similar self-destruction is chronicled in Summer of Deliverance, delivers here a good definition of Capote's true gift to literature: "The scene stirring with rightness and strangeness, the compressed phrase, the exact yet imaginative word, the devastating metaphorical aptness, a feeling of concentrated excess which at the same time gives the effect of being crystalline." --Tim Appelo [via]