Music for Chameleons

Music for Chameleons

4.05 (6,740 ratings by Goodreads)
  • Paperback

Currently unavailable

Add to wishlist

AbeBooks may have this title (opens in new window).

Try AbeBooks


This collection of 14 short stories includes "Handcarved Coffins" which, like the novel "In Cold Blood", is based on the brutal crimes of a real-life murderer. Of the 14 stories, seven are potraits of characters such as Marilyn Monroe and a dope-smoking, New York cleaning more

Product details

  • Paperback | 288 pages
  • 127 x 195.58 x 20.32mm | 204.12g
  • Penguin Books Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • New edition
  • 0140187030
  • 9780140187038

Review quote

"An incomparable stylist and entertainer...clean and cool...Ýwith a superb, near-perfect pitch with dialogue." --"The New York Times Book Review" "Everything is displayed in this book: insights and recollections of the famous and the obscure; old jokes and fresh wit...These stories and vingettes will endure." --"New Republic"show more

Review Text

A distressingly thin and uneven new collection from a man who's clearly been having a terrible time at the typewriter; in a painful introduction, Capote reviews his whole career and tells how he recently realized the limitations of his previous work and arrived at a new style - first-person narration, severe and minimal, heavy on transcript-like presentation of conversations. Sadly, this new manner hardly has the intended effect - and it certainly can't disguise the lack of substance or shape in most of the anecdotal, apparently non-fictional, material here: the story of how Pearl Bailey helped Capote escape onto a plane out of California (to avoid a contempt-of-court charge); a chance meeting with an old pal - an earthy lady barkeep - in New Orleans; an interview (surprisingly tedious) with a convicted, Manson-connected murderer; a 1955 conversation with Marilyn Monroe that slides from sheer tacky gossip to appalling sentimentality ("Marilyn, Marilyn, why did everything have to turn out the way it did? Why does life have to be so fucking rotten?"); a couple of believe-it-or-not dinner-table tales; an embarrassing self-interview; and childhood memories of a few people who came to dinner. Much better, more genuinely felt, is another childhood fragment ("Dazzle"), in which little Truman (who wants to be a girl and/or a tapdancer) steals his grandmother's jewel to give to a wish-granting local sorceress. The title piece, too, at least sustains a mood. And two pieces begin well but fall apart, as the limitations of Capote's lightweight "non-fiction fiction" (neither the emotional texture of fiction nor the trustworthy grab of journalism) become glaring: "A Day's Work," with Capote following his pot-smoking, boss-sassing Hispanic cleaning woman on her appointed rounds (the piece that got TC accused of anti-Semitism); and "Hello Stranger," in which an old acquaintance - who may or may not be a child molester - tells TC his troubles over lunch at The Four Seasons. (Only one story doesn't feature fey, often fatuous, TC front and center: "Mojave" - a study of love/hate couples and triangles that almost works. . . until Capote insists on spelling out all the parallels.) Throughout, the writing is flat, often cliched or cutesy, with only a very few flashes of real style ("She sounds the way bananas taste"). And the mannered, distracting transcript-format, with its aura of pseudo-authenticity, adds to the shiftiness inherent in Capote's gossip-as-literature approach. But the longest piece here, "Handcarved Coffins," rises above all these defects: it's such a ghoulishly outlandish (supposedly true) story - about a series of sadistic petty-revenge murders in a small Western town, committed through the years by an obvious but un-arrestable suspect - that it doesn't matter how it's told at all. And this gruesome chiller (featuring TC as sidekick to the state detective on the case) will guarantee a sizeable audience, as will perhaps the Monroe sex-talk. Overall, however, it's a depressing gathering - and, if Capote genuinely believes that "Handcarved Coffins" is better written than In Cold Blood, the prospects are hardly very promising for his long-awaited, promised-soon novel, Answered Prayers. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

6,740 ratings
4.05 out of 5 stars
5 35% (2,375)
4 41% (2,744)
3 20% (1,318)
2 3% (221)
1 1% (82)
Book ratings by Goodreads
Goodreads is the world's largest site for readers with over 50 million reviews. We're featuring millions of their reader ratings on our book pages to help you find your new favourite book. Close X