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Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel

Answered Prayers is an unfinished novel by Truman Capote, published posthumously.

History

The title is in reference to a quote by Saint Teresa of Ávila; answered prayers cause more tears than those that remain unanswered. According to Joseph M. Fox's editor's note to the 1987 edition, Capote signed the initial contract for the novel on January 5, 1966 with Random House. This agreement provided a $250,000 advance with a stipulated delivery date of January 1, 1968 . Distracted by the success of his "nonfiction novel," In Cold Blood, the Black and White Ball, television projects, short pieces and increasing personal demons, Capote missed his 1968 deadline. In July 1969 the contract was renegotiated, granting a "substantially larger advance" in exchange for a trilogy to be delivered in January 1973. The delivery date was further delayed to January 1974 and September 1977. A final agreement in early 1980 would have yielded Capote $1,000,000 to have been paid only if he submitted the manuscript by March 1, 1981. This final deadline was not kept.

The book is a somewhat sordid tale of the mixing of high and low social classes, drawn from his experiences as best friend and confidant to the most prominent female socialites of the era and their husbands. Unspoiled Monsters is largely based on Capote's friend, the real-life male prostitute Denham Fouts. Capote first envisioned it as an American analog to Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past that would come to be regarded as his masterwork in the late 1950s.

By 1975, Capote's increasingly outrageous public behavior, fueled by alcohol and drugs, led many to believe that he had no intention of ever publishing Answered Prayers and had given up writing to follow in the footsteps of his fabulous friends as a professional socialite. To prove that he was still a viable and productive writer, Capote sold four chapters of the novel-in-progress to Esquire in 1975 and 1976. This resulted in an uproar among Capote's friends and acquaintances, who recognized thinly veiled characters based on themselves. Both "Mojave" and "La Cote Basque" were exposes of the dysfunctional personal lives led by the author's main benefactors, CBS head Bill Paley and his wife Babe, then terminally ill with cancer. The Paleys would never socialize with Capote again and led an exodus of ostracizing friends.

From a literary viewpoint the chapters received a mixed reaction. Some, like Capote biographer Gerald Clarke, consider Answered Prayers to be the culmination of the factual novel form first employed by the author with In Cold Blood and a testimonial to his talent's ability to transcend substance abuse. Others, namely Norman Mailer, praised Capote's technique but questioned the seemingly frivolous plotline of escapades among an already outmoded jet set.

Composition

In the introduction to his 1980 collection, Music for Chameleons, Capote detailed the writing process of the novel:
For four years, roughly from 1968 through 1972, I spent most of my time reading and selecting, rewriting and indexing my own letters, other people's letters, my diaries and journals (which contain detailed accounts of hundreds of scenes and conversations) for the years 1943 through 1965... in 1972 I began work on [Answered Prayers] by writing the last chapter [presumably "Father Flanagan's All-Night Nigger Queen Kosher Cafe"] first (it's always good to know where one is going). Then I wrote the first chapter, "Unspoiled Monsters". Then the fifth, "A Severe Insult to the Brain". Then the seventh, "La Cote Basque". I went on in this manner, writing different chapters out of sequence. I was able to do this only because the plot--or rather plots--was true, and all the characters were real... I hadn't invented anything...

If this "official" chronology is to believed, Capote stopped work on Answered Prayers in September 1977 after suffering what he considered to be a "nervous breakdown". After a period of consideration and reorganization, he conducted substantial revisions on the chapters published in Esquire and dropped "Mojave," a sort of novel within the novel that was intended to be the second chapter. The chapter would see publication as a standalone work in Music for Chameleons.

While this explanation was illuminating in 1980, further evidence makes Capote's statements seem dubious at best. Fox corroborates Capote to a large extent and claimed to have seen all four of the Esquire chapters in 1975, but Gerald Clarke's biography indicates that only the recently-written "Mojave" and "La Cote Basque" were in any sort of publishable condition by that date. (However, both "Unspoiled Monsters" and "Kate McCloud" were published by the end of 1976). Capote's legendary and almost stenographic journals, considered by a minority of friends to have been the true bread and butter of his literary output, have never surfaced after his death, let alone in a revised form. By all accounts, he spent those years in a drug and alcohol induced haze.

Theories regarding missing chapters

The three chapters published in Esquire, totaling less than 200 hardcover pages, were published in 1987 under the title Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel. Revised versions of these chapters that were purported to have existed, along with "A Severe Insult to the Brain", "Yachts and Things", "And Audrey Wilder Sang" and "Father Flannagan's...", have not been located (if they indeed do exist) as of 2008.

In the years prior to his death, Capote frequently read from these chapters to friends at dinners, but such was his gift of storytelling that few could discern whether he was actually reading from a manuscript or improvising. He attempted to sell one of the chapters to Esquire sometime in the early 1980s but balked and feigned illness when an editor asked to see the story. Capote claimed that lover John O'Shea had absconded with "A Severe Insult to the Brain" in 1977 and sued for repossession, but he eventually reconciled with O'Shea and dropped the lawsuit. At least one Capote associate claims to have acted as a courier for the full manuscript. According to Joseph Fox, four of Capote's friends claim to have read drafts of "Father Flanagan's All-Night Nigger Queen Kosher Cafe" and "A Severe Insult to the Brain". Capote regularly cited dialogue and plot points from these chapters in multiple conversations with Fox that never wavered or changed over the years. In his editor's note, Fox "hesitantly" theorized that the two chapters did exist at one juncture but were destroyed by Capote in the 1980s.

Shortly before his death in 1984, Capote informed Joanne Carson that he had finally finished Answered Prayers and was preparing to die in peace. Carson allegedly had read the three chapters prior to this date and described them as being "very long." On the morning preceding his death, Capote handed a key to Carson for a safe deposit box or locker that contained the completed novel, stating that "the novel will be found when it wants to be found." When Carson pressed Capote for a precise location, he offered a myriad of locations in various cities. An exhaustive search for the manuscript after Capote's death yielded nothing.

A third and less tantalizing belief, held by a minority of Capote intimates, including Andy Warhol (who frequently partied with and employed the author throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s) and longtime lover Jack Dunphy (who had extricated himself from much of Capote's affairs by this era but by all accounts knew him better than anybody else with the possible exception of the Paleys), was that the publication of "La Cote Basque" had traumatized Capote to the extent where he ceased all work on Answered Prayers after finishing "Kate McCloud" and was incapable of finishing it. In his diary, Warhol made frequent mention of drunken ramblings related to the novel by Capote but was never able to secure any serious plot details. When he did discuss the contents of one of the chapters to a privileged Brigid Berlin, Warhol was irritated that she did not tape the discussion.

References

External links

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