Deliberate Cruelty by Roseanne Montillo

Having been an avid fan of Truman Capote ever since I read In Cold Blood back in the 1980’s, I have voraciously devoured (sort of obsessively) anything and everything written about him. But Deliberate Cruelty goes well-beyond Truman’s notoriously brutal, demeaning and uncaring personality. This book shows the exact reason all his so-called friends decided he was a piranha. It is also the story of what seems to have led to his decent into alcohol which ultimately caused his death.

It all started with Truman’s hatred of a socialite named Ann Woodward who was married to banker Billy Woodward. In 1955 Ann either accidently or intentionally shot and killed her husband Billy one night thinking he was a prowler in the house. But because of Ann’s position in society, she was never actually charged with a crime and her punishment was to be ostracized to Europe alone without her two children.

Ann’s upbringing was similar to Truman’s in there was no stable relationship with their parents, they were left to be raised by relatives and grew up very poor. Later in life both would reconnect with their mothers and take care of them. Could this have been the impetus for what Truman did and why? No one will really know.

After Capote hit it big with In Cold Blood, the first non-fiction book ever written, he became not only the talk of Manhattan, but was also invited to every party, lunch, dinner or vacation in which the elite had. He became their entertainment, telling stories and making them laugh. Although Ann Woodward was not one of his admirers.

So, when years later Truman decided to write a book about Ann killing her husband, no one understood why. But write he did and not only about Ann, but about all those friends, all women he had met and seduced into telling him their secrets. These women were known as his “swans” and they took him everywhere, on vacation, to lunch, to parties. They gossiped to him about the people at those places and about the intimate details of their own lives, thinking Truman was a true friend.

But Truman had no interest in secrets. He had more interest in celebrity. So, as he was writing the book, he received an offer from a magazine to excerpt some of the juicy details he had been writing about which included Ann and unbeknownst his female friends, them.

Ann Woodward heard about Truman’s magazine story and never read it. She killed herself just before it was published. Truman never up until the day he died understood or blamed himself for her death. He also lost all of his swans as their juicy bits of gossip were printed and although their real names were never used, the veil as to who they really were was not very high. The embarrassment they all lived through would change many of their lives forever, again with Truman never understanding what he actually had done.

Without his flock, Truman became a shell of himself and although he tried to make amends with a few of them, he was dumped from their society never to return. And thus, his spiral began in earnest.

Deliberate Cruelty is the perfect title for this story. In Capote’s life he ruined many a friendship and relationship, but it seems, to keep his fame he would destroy lives, even if it meant someone’s death without an iota of regret.

Thank you #NetGalley #AtriaBooks #DeliberateCruelty #RoseanneMontillo for the advanced copy.

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