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Music for Chameleons

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  8,716 ratings  ·  533 reviews
At the centre of Music for Chameleons is Handcarved Coffins, a ‘nonfiction novel’ based on the brutal crimes of a real-life murderer.Taking place in a small Midwestern town in America, it offers chilling insights into the mind of a killer and the obsession of the man bringing him to justice. Also in this volume are six short stories and seven ‘conversational portraits’ inc ...more
Paperback, 262 pages
Published 2001 by Penguin (first published 1980)
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Average rating 4.08  · 
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 ·  8,716 ratings  ·  533 reviews

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Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, recs
The lesser-known work’s mostly a dizzying mix of character-centric stories and experimental profiles of celebrities and socialites, though the fictional centerpiece, “Handcarved Coffins,” dramatizes a series of enigmatic murders, riffing off the dread and detachment of In Cold Blood.
Jon Nakapalau
Dec 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, crime, classics
Truman Capote had a way of making you feel as if he were whispering to you in a crowded room; "here is something I know and now I will tell you" as the rest of the crowd mulled about. It is this intimacy that makes his 'crime' stories so memorable.
mark monday
Aug 02, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: he-said-she-said
the biggest attraction to this collection is "Handcarved Coffins", an excellent account of serial killing in a small town. by turns mysterious, frustrating, tense, and bizarre, the accounting details Capote's relationship with the FBI agent assigned to the case, who has in turn romantically assigned himself to one of the potential victims. the modus operandi of the killer is original and very upsetting. the identity of the killer does not appear to be in question; what arises over the course of ...more
K.D. Absolutely
If you want to know more about Truman Capote, this is a better entertaining option for you. Composed of 14 short stories, Capote made himself a character in each. In the last one, in fact, he appeared as 2 characters conversing with each other. I had a nice time reading most of them because he seemed like a very versatile writer who was not afraid to experiment. I understand that these small masterpieces appeared in various magazines (New Yorker, Esquire, etc) during his time. So, probably that' ...more
Barry Pierce
Sep 25, 2015 rated it liked it
In this collection of fiction and non-fiction from late in Capote's life, he shows us that while his fiction may be depleting, his non-fiction is as sharp as ever. The stories at the beginning of the book didn't do anything for me. They were all very middling and detracted from this work in my opinion. "Handcarved Coffins" is a work in the style In Cold Blood but the recent discovery that most of it was probably made up does make it hard to suspend disbelief. However, the real jewel in this coll ...more
Review to follow. On a book buying trip. Whooopeeeee!

And after some nice finds, it's back to business.

Music for Chameleons: New Writing by Truman Capote Including Handcarved Coffins

Although Random House plugs Music for Chameleons as new writings by Truman Capote, when it was published in 1980, all of the pieces had appeared in the two preceding years in Capote's usual venues, "Esquire," "Interview," "McCall's," "New York Magazine," and "The New Yorker." Within four years, Capote would be dead.

Mar 06, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: short-story, essay, memoir
I'd been teaching In Cold Blood for two semesters and used the preface to this to introduce In Cold Blood, so I figured I might as well read the rest of the book. This is late-period Capote, mostly a mishmash of personal essays, anecdotes, and a novella-length true crime story.

First of all, the preface makes Capote seem like a self-involved jackass (which he by most accounts was - remember the postscript to the movie saying he never recovered from writing In Cold Blood?), but it also reveals his
Rick Burin
Apr 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A book of extraordinary grace, incisiveness and honesty which further bolsters my impression that Capote remains one of the most important, original and underestimated writers of his era. Fuck his artificial image as a catty, trivial, morbid starfucker, and study the work: dark, devastating, morally decent work shot through with his actual character, the shadows of an encroaching darkness creeping across the sun-dappled idyll of his New Orleans childhood. Even fans tend to lean on a popular narr ...more
Halley Sutton
Jun 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Hmm. Hmm. Lots of thoughts here.

1. I'd read a grocery list if Truman Capote wrote it, so I am not unbiased in my review.
2. That said. Jesus, what a preface! I sure love to read him, but I can't imagine he was any picnic to know, particularly in later years. (Although who wouldn't have loved to split a bottle of champagne with him and Marilyn Monroe, seriously.) Particularly of interest was the line about discovering what is true and what is REALLY true. Where in Capote's psyche did "Handcarved
Aug 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Excellent anthology of short stories, essays and one short nonfiction piece. These stories show the full range of Capote's talent, ability with words and description as well as give insight to some of the famous people - via conversations - who Capote consorted with, entertained, interacted with and had as intimates and friends. Though all of these 'events' happened thirty years ago or more, they feel fresh and new. Sometimes I am surprised that 'we' used 'that expression' back in the 70's? Or 6 ...more
Dec 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Really good book of short true stories by Capote. If you have never read anything of his, this would be a good place to try on his style.
Rick Rowland
Mar 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think I just discovered my new favorite book.
Roozbeh Estifaee
Feb 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had heared of Truman Capote as a creator of what is called "non-fiction novel". Though not sure about what it meant, I was absorbed by the idea this expression suggested. So I read Music for Chameleons and boy! That was something!
The book is conducted in three parts: Music for Chameleons, Handcarved Coffins, and Conversational Portraits. The first is a set of six "non-fiction" short stories, which are, to say, perfect stories from which the "tale" is taken. The second part is a short novel, wr
Sep 01, 2007 rated it liked it
I liked the first two thirds of this book quite a lot. Capote was just an amazingly skilled writer, and his clean, thoughtful prose really worked for me. However, I found the last third (Conversational Portraits) pretty irritating. In the first part of the book, even though Capote is a character in all stories, and is a strong narrative presence, it didn't overwhelm the work. The third part, though, is Capote in full-blown egomaniac, name-dropping mode. I could've done without the nearly minute- ...more
Ryal Woods
Jul 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is the book that sparked my appreciation of metaphor. "She sounds the way bananas taste" "a lemony slice of new moon" - floridly simple, but it impressed the hell out of me as a kid. Capote is telling stories even as he relates his true encounters with famous and infamous people, and memories of his Southern childhood. This collection contains Handcarved Coffins, written in similar style to In Cold Blood. You can never tell when Capote is telling truths or lies - I suspect he didn't know th ...more
Joseph Sciuto
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Going back and re-reading the works of Truman Capote is like visiting an old and trusted and extremely wise friend. Mr Capote as much as any writer I have read, knew the difference between good writing and very good writing and between very good writing and brilliant writing. And for most of his career, his writing was brilliant.

He could write as descriptively and beautifully as F. Scott Fitzgerald or as descriptively and brutally realistic as Joseph Conrad, but as much as any writer he knew the
Erin the Avid Reader ⚜BFF's with the Cheshire Cat⚜
God dang Truman Capote is the gayest, funniest, most flamboyant author I know of. I read this book of short stories in just a little over an hour and laughed my butt off at some of them. Even though Truman Capote comes off as a bit of a bastard to most people (sometimes for good reasons), he is genuinely a very interesting and intelligent intellectual who, I swear to God, must be the biggest socialite in American History. Heck, one of the short stories is simply about a conversation between him ...more
Aug 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful. Especially "Dazzle," "Handcarved Coffins," and "A Beautiful Child". This is perfect escapist yet literary reading. Helped me to block out the pandemic, election-madness, general apocalypse. Thankful for the uniqueness that is Truman.
Reading Badger
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I knew almost nothing about this book. I read its back and I could notice that it’s about many stories than a single one. Newsweek writes that it’s the most enjoyable book by Truman Capote, while The New York Times Book Review sums up like this: “Capote is a stylish and storyteller like no other one.”

-Most of the stories are non-fiction, so you get the chance to know true details of Marilyn Monroe’s life or to be witness to high-flown criminal cases. The book is a great anthology of short storie
Jan 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: overdrive
I believe that the pieces comprising this book were written after Capote abandoned the novel that was ultimately published, in unfinished form, as "Answered Prayers". Even though he struggled with his novel, he still showed his gifts for observation and characterization in the short stories that form the first part of this book. They are not individually titled, but all fall under the heading Music for Chameleons. There are some wonderful stories here, starting with the chameleons transfixed by ...more
Jul 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: non-fiction
I think it is safe to say that Capote was haunted by his early success with Other Voices, Other Rooms, the popularity of Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the burden of writing what Ernest Hemingway called, "the Classic American Novel," In Cold Blood. By the time that he wrote Music for Chameleons, Capote was drinking heavily and deeply depressed. This book is an pastiche of bit and pieces of Capote's writing. His interview with Bobby Beausoleil from the Manson family is one of the more interesting pi ...more
Dec 10, 2011 rated it liked it
The best: conversational portraits - especially those of Marylin Monroe, pot-smoking housekeeper, alleged child molester and one of the killers in Manson crew, and the true crime story "Handcarved Coffins."

The whole first part, the collection of short stories "Music for Chameleons" is just so-so. Not even one of those left an impression on me.
Jan 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
A good read, as one might expect with Capote. Includes the maddening true story "Handcarved Coffins," which introduces Capote's own definition of the perfect crime, and an interview he did with Bobby Beausoleil.
Dec 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fav truman book thus far. I feel like he really pushed himself in this one. A work of art
Nicolas Chinardet
There is no doubt that Capote is a fantastic writer. His words flow beautifully and effortlessly. Whatever anecdote he chooses to relate becomes alive on the page and in the reader's mind.

Yet, for there is a "yet", this ragtag collection of writings fails to be as satisfying as it should be. It is a mostly random collection of vignettes, little scraps of stories that don't quite seem to be going anywhere. As mentioned, that does not mean that the reading of them is not enjoyable and sometimes e
Moshe Mikanovsky
So happy I found this book!

Music for Chameleons - 3* - loving the style, not so much the story. Although the image of the chameleons coming to listen to the music is beautiful
Mr. Jones - 4 * - short short. Great story.
A lamp in the Window - 4* - human kindness
Mojave - 4* - another great storytelling. A story in a story. The spoiled rich
Hospitality - 3* - starts like a fairy tale, but it is not.
Dazzle - 4* - another great storytelling
Handcrafted Coffins - 5*- whether the story is fiction or not
Jun 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Marilyn Monroe: Remember, I said if anybody ever asked you what I was like, what Marilyn Monroe was really like - well, how would you answer them? (Her tone was teaseful, mocking, yet earnest, too: she wanted an honest reply) I bet you'd tell them I was a slob. A banana split.
Truman Capote: Of course. But I'd also say...
(The light was leaving. She seemed to fade with it, blend with the sky and clouds, recede beyond them. I wanted to lift my voice louder than the seagulls' cries and call her back
Dec 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Capote is a terrific writer, and helped develop the 'nonfiction novel' style with In Cold Blood. While this book isn't as good as ICB, it is an easy read, being a collection of short memories and 'conversational portraits'. This style of recounting interactions and conversations with actual people got him in trouble with some of his NYC high-s0ciety pals. It also has an interesting and brief Intro in which he talks about the evolution of his writing style.
Isla McKetta
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
If you read Capote for the gossipy chatter, you'll love the conversations in this book. If you read him for the careful insight into human character and a mastery of plot, read The Grass Harp, Including A Tree of Night and Other Stories instead. ...more
Sam Sellers-King
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
Purely engaging, touching, brilliant short stories and portraits- so expertly told.
The diversity in characters and viewpoints displayed is unbelievable. Music For Chameleons charmed, saddened and brought laughter to my life. The bittersweet sensation of loving every turning page of a book, knowing the end is growing ever-closer.

Capote is a master of the craft, comparing his older work to this, there are clear improvements in form, style and use of the language and tenses.

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Truman Capote was an American writer whose non-fiction, stories, novels and plays are recognised literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) and In Cold Blood (1965), which he labeled a "non-fiction novel." At least 20 films and TV dramas have been produced from Capote novels, stories and screenplays.

He was born as Truman Streckfus Persons to a salesman Archulus Persons

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