Music for Chameleons


By TRUMAN CAPOTE (my previous reviews of his work HERE)

Penguin Classics

When I real-time review this book, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above.

17 thoughts on “Music for Chameleons

  1. I

    ‘Music for Chameleons’

    Like those two otherwise identical headings, chameleons of pecking order? And a story of music, genius loci, colours, and a mirroring of intense power…A Black Mirror reflecting another Black Mirror…

    “…this chic, elderly woman, the product of varied bloods. She begins to perform a Mozart sonata.”

    Not only is this possibly the most intensely alluring ‘story’ or ‘poetic essay’ or ‘character study’ I have ever read, but it also presents for me, without the shadow of a doubt, the most surprising and significant coincidence, serendipity, synchronicity, call these things what you will, that I have ever experienced since first conducting in 2008 what I now call my Dreamcatcher book reviews. This book arrived today and earlier today I automatically read the next story in another book I am already Dreamcatching (HERE) and that story was entitled THE BLACK MIRROR and, now, I see that there are unexpected links between both stories, having just read this Capote story. I can’t imagine in a million years that Capote would have read Jean Ray or vice versa. The two authors, I guess, embody defiantly different, unconnectable worlds and genres, marooned apart, now only linked by the chance coincidence of my reading both stories today and then reviewing them. Utterly, utterly different stories, both featuring a similarly working Black Mirror.
    Meanwhile, the Capote story takes place in Martinique, and also features murders, carnival incidents, a horde of ghosts working to pick bugs off coffee plants, Marcel Proust working as a waiter in a seafood restaurant, and much more. A perfect gem.


  2. Two
    ‘Mr. Jones’

    A three pager that truly startles.
    A strange haunting outcome to what happened to the popular blind and crippled man who once lived next door…
    I am clear that such an outcome, real or fictional, must have been due to the insanity of the narrator or the Insanity of Jones himself? No other way about it.

  3. Three
    ‘A Lamp in a Window’

    “I looked at the book Mrs. Kelly – for that was her name, as I later learned – had been reading: it was ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen, a favourite writer of mine.”

    As an aside, I wonder if the fact that Emma’s surname in that book is Woodhouse. The Insanity of Jones mentioned in the previous review above is a story by Blackwood, and that followed a story about (Dr. John Dee’s?) Black Mirror… Hmmm. A preternatural thread?
    This story itself is another startler, one about a man marooned after escaping being driven by drunken drivers, in the middle of nowhere, only to find shelter with kindly cat-loving Mrs. Adams. It reminds me of a Dahl Tale of the Unexpected – in a good way.

  4. Five

    “Afterward everybody was served cup-cakes and fruit punch spiked with scuppernong wine.”

    A gentle, homely tale of the narrator’s aunt who was ultra-hospitable, much to her husband’s annoyance or bemusement. Strangely pointless, but enjoyable because of this and not in spite of it.

  5. Six

    “…the stone, which was the size of a cat’s paw, was not a ‘gem’ stone, not a canary diamond, not even a topaz, but a chunk of rock-crystal deftly faceted and tinted dark yellow.”

    This classic story, I guess it must be a classic, how could it be otherwise, even though I had never heard of it before, let alone read it until a few minutes ago. It is about an eight year old child’s obsession with something he considers trivial and his need to discuss it with a once ‘trash white’ woman who slept with coloureds, now a woman with the aura of wisdom and magic in the community. That trivial matter upon which he wants to consult that woman is one that, I feel, effectively seeps into the work of Capote in many of its undercurrents, so hardly trivial at all? Nor is that rock-crystal trivial, either. It is THE objective correlative of the Queen in Yellow, I suggest.
    (I assume, as I remember, most children have concerns that worry them intensely, and, whether trivial or not, thus not trivial at all.)

  6. II
    A Nonfiction Account of an American Crime

    “It originated in those mountains to the north and flows through the plains and ranches; it’s our main source of irrigation,…”

    A novella with about 80 pages. I have read nothing about the background to this work, so I call it a novella advisedly. A Nonfiction Account it is because it is artfully fabricated to seem like Nonfiction, with a patchwork of reports and dialogue transcriptions, and feels like it is more Nonfiction than Nonfiction itself from its power deriving from well-characterised Fiction that Nonfiction never can have. God’s gestalt. A God ironically created by Fiction.

    The chessgame between reality and dream. It is an account of riparian murders woven with literary references like Proust, Austen, Wharton, Dickens etc – a fey whodunnit woven with rattlesnakes and handcarved coffins containing photographs of those thus cursed – and snow. Snow as in weather and as in an alias name. The name of a preacher like another preacher in King’s Revival – once recognised from the protagonist’s past….

    An absolute gem of a page-turner borne on the current of literature’s river.

  7. III

    ‘A Day’s Work’

    “What’s wrong with Negroes? I’m a Negro, and a Catholic, and proud to say it.”

    In the same fashion of the so-called ‘Nonfiction Account’ in HANDCARVED COFFINS, this is the reported investigations and dialogues transcribed of one call TC who I assume to be the author or a fictional portrait of him, here lapsing into sharing ‘roaches’ with his female subject and visiting her church with her at the end of the day, a touching finale. Especially touching, as we have followed his subject, a coloured charwoman or houseworker who sees herself ‘working like a nigger’ (as it comes out towards the end), and as TC follows her round from customer’s place to customer’s place, we gradually learn more about her, about her customers, about the places where they all live, and about so-called TC – who is this text’s easy but meticulous handcarver? A day’s work indeed, living it, writing about it.

  8. Two
    ‘Hello, Stranger’

    TC now has another ‘Nonfiction Account’ of his interview of dialogue at one of the infrequent reunions with an old school pal called George who once helped TC do his algebra homework, but with very little else in common. It transpires that George needs to confess something to TC and the implicit account is compelling. One can see exactly where it is going, from a message in a bottle written by a 12 year old girl via TC’s revealing reference to Humbert Humbert towards an ending where TC cuts his losses and accepts George’s explanation of innocence…
    A lot of mixed motives and inferences make for a story as its own message within the bottle of this book that TC possibly threw into our synchronised shards of random truth and fiction…

  9. Three
    ‘Hidden Gardens’

    “– fresh cherries boiled in cream sweetened with absinthe and served stuffed into the vagina of a reclining quadroon beauty.”

    TC’s engaging, sometimes salacious, ‘Nonfiction Account’ of the people and places of New Orleans, where we ‘hear’ the dramatised dialogues and – towards the end – a wonderful account of the few cities in the world that have double lives, including a Henry-Jamesian Venice, but, above all, TC’s NO with all its hidden gates to even more hidden gardens. Perhaps paralleling those not always so hidden gardens hung or secreted about each person…

    “…he said, ‘And now I’m gonna put it in you,’ and I said, ‘Oh no you ain’t!’ — it was big as a baby’s arm holding an apple.”

  10. Four

    “Only a miracle, to coin a phrase, was going to save me. And we don’t believe in miracles, do we?
    Suddenly a miracle occurs.”

    A hilarious eventuality of TC’s prison visiting (cf Sally Tomato in Tiffany’s) – a moral dilemma and an arrest warrant, leading to two men clothes-swapping in a toilet on the brink of being landed with an L and L …. and, for me, the act of human travel in the sky as a miracle in itself, especially when accompanied by Pearl Bailey and her chorus of gaudy picaninnies….
    The law is a flying ass.

  11. Five
    ‘Then It All Came Down’

    “TC: I’m surprised you have a guitar. Some prisons don’t allow it because the strings can be detached and used as weapons.”

    TC is prison visiting again, this time the person who effectively murdered all the people Charles Manson murdered. Read this Nonfiction Account where TC claims to have met so many murderers and their victims; I continue to worry that these accounts are not Nonfiction at all. If so, like life and its reality themselves, all to the good, I say, like this prisoner says, too. Somehow, TC, with these conversational portraits, proves that fiction contains more grainy, heartfelt truth than truth itself.
    I’ve heard of fiction having the unreliable narrator syndrome as a literary device – but nonfiction, too, to make it even more like nonfiction? I have learnt a lot fromTC about life and truth since starting to read him recently. I’ve learnt more about myself, too. The grass harp and a half. TC is Top Cat, for me.

  12. Six
    ‘A Beautiful Child’

    “It’s just an initial with no name behind it?”

    TC continues the name-dropping of those he has met. Whether or not this dialogue is fantasy, it evokes an image of Marilyn Monroe that fits what I want her to have been and expected her to have been, even in disguise with one of Holly Golightly’s stolen masks on? Swear words, and all. It had to be a funeral where it happened, a funeral or, here, a rebirth… But somehow I think ‘beautiful child’ is more a description by TC of himself…
    Errol Flynn or Prince Philip, notwithstanding.

  13. Seven

    “Still, our real fears are the sounds of footsteps walking in the corridors of our minds, and the anxieties, the phantom floatings, they create.”

    As if in confirmation of the theory I make at the end of the previous review, this is TC’s final dialogue – a dialogue with another TC, initials with no name behind it. A Nonfiction Account of Proustian self with Proustian self that blossoms into a word-musical stream of consciousness (Proust is mentioned specifically by TC in this work) – about a childhood, likes and dislikes, home truths, religious beliefs, more famous name-dropping… His one wish – for the eternally beautiful child to grow up.
    TC as Proustian Tea Cake.
    TC his own chameleon.


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