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Music for Chameleons

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  9,887 ratings  ·  645 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’ in ...more
Paperback, 262 pages
Published 2001 by Penguin (first published 1980)
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Average rating 4.09  · 
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Luís
This book is very heterogeneous, and for those who do not know Truman Capote, this one would give them an overview of the author's writing. This book brings together both very brief novels, as the short novel Coffin made to measure and portraits and conversations that the author had with famous characters (like, for example, here, Marilyn Monroe) who, under the pen of Capote, suddenly come to life before our eyes. In the short stories gathered here, the author enjoys making the reader travel to ...more
Michael
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recs, 2019
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: classics, crime, favorites
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. ...more
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
Faith
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
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
John
Mar 06, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: essay, memoir, short-story
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
...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
Lawyer
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.

Th
...more
Abyssdancer
Jan 14, 2022 rated it really liked it
This is kind of a mishmash of stories and essays … it starts with several short stories, followed by a nonfiction novella, and completed with several conversations …

I loved every story/conversation in this compilation …

I’m going to start with the last conversation included in this book … remember in high school English class where you had to write an essay interviewing yourself so you could get in touch with your inner child? Capote actually completed this exercise, and my god, it is hilarious …
...more
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
...more
Jaksen
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
Sue
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
...more
Jessica
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
Andrew
Vintage boozy, bitchy Capote, featuring Marilyn Monroe, Bobby Beausoleil, and a New York housekeeper making the day go by a bit faster with a wee toke (no clue how many of these are fiction and how many aren't). Honestly, I hadn't read Capote since my fourth-estater parents bade me to read In Cold Blood back when I was in high school, and I didn't know how he'd hold up (I have since watched Breakfast at Tiffany's, and, well, that shit is cringe af). But really, you got a portrait of the world he ...more
Alejandra
100% Truman Capote:

"So I began to think what I would have inscribed on my tombstone … The first inscription I thought of was: AGAINST MY BETTER JUDGMENT. Then I thought of something far more characteristic. And excuse, a phrase I use about almost any commitment: I TRIED TO GET OUT OF IT, BUT I COULDN’T.

100% Truman Capote:

"De manera que empece a pensar qué pondría yo en mi tumba [...] la primera inscripción en que pensé, fue: contra mi propia voluntad. Luego se me ocurrió algo mas peculiar. Una d
...more
James
Jun 13, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is definitely a must read! Hand-carved Coffins was such a gripping read but I loved Conversational Portraits: witty, heart-wrenching (at times) and thought provoking. So many of these stories will stay with me.
Capote is a genius!
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
...more
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
Briana
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
Stuart
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. ...more
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
...more
Maureen
Jul 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Tatiana
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.
...more
Betül
Sep 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"To wake up one morning and feel that i was a last a grown-up person, emptied of resentment, vengeful thoughts and other wasteful childish emotions. To find myself, in other words, an adult". Like Capote, i long to feel like that. But, what if i never wanna lose my childish side? I can say, based on this book, Capote wanted it so and succeed to die with a child inside. ...more
Fishface
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. ...more
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5,690 followers
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
...more

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