(33. - 1138.) Deliberate Cruelty by Roseanne Montillo - Ann Woodward was born in 1915 as Angeline Luceic Crowell and grew up in poverty in Kansas. Her prospects were grim but she was blessed with great beauty and great determination to succeed. She renamed herself Ann Eden. Given a chance to model she seized the opportunity to move to New York City.
William “Billy” Woodward Jr., born in 1920, grew up as the privileged heir to a banking fortune. He was indulged and pampered by his mother, Elsie, and older sisters. His distant father, William Woodward Sr., was pre-occupied with race horses and banking.
Truman Streckfus Persons was born in the Deep South in 1924 and spent his early years in Monroville, Alabama. He was disliked because he was short, effeminate and smart. His mother, Lillie Mae, was another beautiful woman.
Ann and Lillie Mae sought to use their beauty to marry up into wealth and security. Ann had the better approach in establishing herself and determining who had real wealth before taking a spouse. Lillie Mae married young at 16 wrongly assuming her husband, Arch, had money because his family was well-to-do.
Shock, frustration and anger dominated Elsie as she contemplated the marriage of Billy to Ann, a nightclub dancer who performed wearing a bunny costume.
It is no surprise that the marriage does not go well. Ann might have made it work had Billy been interested. Their marriage was volatile with frequent emotional confrontations and occasional physical violence. They should have divorced but neither was ready to end the marriage.
Lillie Mae made her way to New York City with determination to rival Ann. She becomes Nina and finds a well-to-do admirer in Joseph Garcia Capone. They marry and she summons Truman from Alabama.
Becoming Truman Capote, the young southerner survives his teenage years and finds success as a writer in his early 20’s. He adopts a lifestyle of night-time writing with pencils in bed and sleeping to noon. He is openly homosexual in the 1940’s.
By 1955 Ann is fed up with the facade that is her marriage and Billy is talking about divorcing her.
In late October of 1955 the Woodward’s were at their weekend home in Long Island. There is tension about because of a neighbourhood prowler
After returning from a party Ann is roused from sleep, grabs the shotgun by her bed and goes to the door of her bedroom. She shoots a naked Billy who has left his bedroom. How dark it was is uncertain.
Ann testifies before a grand jury which refuses to indict her. She is forced into exile.
I was a touch surprised that the sub-title included the phrase “the murder of the century” when Ann was never charged.
Truman was fascinated by the killing and bitter about Ann making derogatory remarks to him when they encountered each other in Europe in 1956. He never forgot and never forgave.
From 1959 through 1966 he was preoccupied with the killings of the Cutter family in Kansas. He gained fame from the resulting book In Cold Blood.
For his next book Capote dreams of writing Answered Prayers, a novel on New York society in which a socialite murders her husband. He expects it to be his magnum opus rivaling Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. He never completes the book.
Truman was well known for his non-fiction not always being factual. Montillo quotes him from a Cosmopolitan magazine article:
“I just call it making something come alive’. In other words, a form of art. Art and truth are not necessarily compatible bedfellows.”
Truman cultivated beautiful wealthy socialites. He referred to them as his swans and had pet names for his flock.
In 1975 Truman sold a story, La Côte Basque 1965, to Esquire magazine. It is a very thinly disguised version of Ann shooting Billy.
Shortly before publication a “frenzied” Ann committed suicide. Truman had murdered with words but felt no remorse.
Had he limited his bile to Ann I expect little would have changed in his world but his venom included the swans who had unwisely confided in him. Their responses shock him.
The book is most alive when discussing Truman. Celebrity gossip is eternally fascinating. I wished there had been more. I raced through the final chapters of the book.
Cruelty to vulnerable women is of no consequence to Truman. Had he the generosity to forgive slights he might not have had a twisted soul.
He could not understand why they would not want their secrets revealed when his life was open. He never understood the distinction between private and published gossip.
Deliberate Cruelty is a good book. Montillo is clearly a gifted researcher reflecting her work as a research librarian. She writes narrative well, moving the stories of Ann, Billy and Truman steadily forward. Life was interesting, even dramatic around them. I would have been glad had she provided her opinions on the events and personalities of the characters.