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A Fictional
Take on Famous Frenemies

A Fictional
Take on Famous Frenemies


Writer Kim Powers imagines an early-'80s reconciliation between former friends Harper Lee and Truman Capote in his fascinating new novel, Capote in Kansas.

The germ of Kim Powers's dark and captivating first novel, Capote in Kansas, was "one of the most exquisite movies ever made -- To Kill a Mockingbird." Powers saw the film as a boy in Texas before reading the Harper Lee novel. Not long after, he watched the movie of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. "I grew up with these two things in my head," the writer recalls. "The beauty of Mockingbird, of playing outside of night, of being scared of the strange person in the neighborhood and the different fear that murderers were going to come into my house at night."

For Powers, these potent ingredients fueled a fascination with Capote, who died in 1984, and Lee, a fiercely private woman still living part of the year with her older sister in Monroeville, Ala. Capote and Lee had been childhood friends and neighbors -- Capote was the model for the small, imaginative boy, Dill, in Mockingbird, and Lee went to Holcomb, Kan., to help Capote research his groundbreaking "nonfiction novel." Soon after the publication of In Cold Blood, though, the writers had a major falling-out. Powers believes there was "a degree of evil they saw in Kansas that took them the rest of their lives to deal with." But he thinks something else may have happened between them. Capote in Kansas teases out the possibilities.

"It's speculative, of course," Powers says. Set in the early 1980s, when Capote was despondent and irrational, washing down rainbows of pills with alcohol, the novel opens with Capote calling Lee in the middle of the night after years of silence. Soon ghosts -- literal and figurative--are haunting both of them, and Lee starts getting anonymous packages in the mail from someone who knows a lot about her.

Powers, who was a writer for ABC's Good Morning America and is now at Primetime, was almost finished with his novel when he learned about the film Capote. "It was like a knife in the heart," he says. "I thought I was the guardian of the greatest story ever told."

He felt better after seeing Capote -- and its lesser-known rival, Infamous. Capote in Kansas is more Lee's book than Capote's. Like the movies, and like Capote's depiction of the Clutter family in In Cold Blood, Powers's book bends the truth in the name of art. These aren't inaccuracies, Powers argues, but "willful creations." An author's note explains where he veered from the known facts.

Capote in Kansas, not to be confused with a 2005 graphic novel of the same name by Andre Parks and Chris Samnee, appears just three weeks before the paperback release of Powers's gorgeous writing debut, 2006's The History of Swimming, a memoir of his relationship with his troubled twin brother, who died of AIDS complications in 1991. (Powers had another brother, who like the twins was gay, who died of AIDS that same year.) Both Swimming and Kansas are suspenseful, with quick-moving plots. "This might come from my years writing for TV," Powers says. "Or it could be that my literary influence is Nancy Drew."

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