Pointless Performances and Other ExercisesnMarie Rudisill with James C. Simmons:nTruman Capote: The Story ofnHis Bizarre and Exotic Boyhood bynan Aunt Who Helped Raise Hint;nWilliam Morrow; New York.nJohn Sack: Fingerprint; RandomnHouse; New York.nby Robert F. GearynIn simpler times biographies told thenreader something, preferably significant,nabout their subjects’ lives. Not so in 1983.nInstead of answering questions, thesentwo productions raise them; it is hard tondiscern what sort of books they are,nharder and more depressing yet to pondernwhy either was published at all.nTruman Capote purports to be a biographynof the writer’s early years, mostlynfrom 1924 to 1931 when, at age seven,nhe left for New York. However, the booknhas little of value to say about Capotenhimself, being instead the stuff of gossipncolumns, TV talk-show interviews, andnPeople magazine—dignified by photographs,nhard covers, a SI3 price tag, andna coauthor with a Ph.D. Even morenstrange is John Szck’s Fingerprint, a diatribenagainst civilization disguised as an(selective) autobiography. Both booksnunwittingly testify to the erosion of standardsnof taste and, in Sack’s case, of anythingnresembling good sense. In then”mainstream” culture a kind of inflationnoperates, blowing up gossipy essays intonbooks. In the end, the price is highernthan might be thought; for the SovereignnSelf, puffing itself ever bigger, seeks thenoverthrow of more than mere genrendecorums.nThe subtide of Truman Capote signalsnthe scandal-sheet nature of the piece.nNor is the publisher slow to pick up onnthe marketing value of “bizarre” andn”exotic,” identifying Capote on the dust-nDr. Geary is head of the department ofnEnglish at James Madison University.n18nChronicles^ Cultttrencover as “a flamboyant eccentric andnone of America’s most celebrated writersn… [who] makes headlines whenever henappears in public.” Since Capote thenwriter has nearly evaporated into Capotenthe “celebrity,” the “personality,” thatnshow-biz creature who is known fornbeing known, it is perhaps with curiousnappropriateness that the book displaysnan analogous lack of substance, beingnless about Capote as a boy than aboutnthe history of the family in which henspent a good part of his first seven years,nwhich is rendered through anecdotes.nCapote has himself drawn extensivelynon his childhood experiences in Monroeville,nAlabama, where he grew up—nsomewhat reclusive and verbally giftedn—in a house full of women dominatednby the formidable Jenny Faulk, a cousinnwho raised the family from poverty andnsupported a host of often-resentful relatives.nSo there is little here that is new.nNor was the family, whose history wenlearn through colorful though perhapsnunreliable tales, especially exotic. Indeed,nlike much of the Southern material, itsnhistory seems never far from the stereotypicalnin its rise through Jenny (a ScarlettnO’Hara figure) from impoverishedncotton-growing to what appears its rapidnlapse into helpless eccentricity (Truman’snnnaged cousin “Sook” Faulk), ineflectualityn(Bud, who wenches but does not work),nor man-chasing and social climbingn(Truman’s mother). Only the black servantsnemerge with dignity, yet they toonare femiliar figures—^lusty and wise, loyalnand strong, stern yet warm. Apart fromnthe sexual escapades of the family members,nwhat is provided is a conventionalnenough portrait of small-town Southernnlife in an earlier era, a picture completenwith the old boys lounging about thencourthouse, heavy-drinking young menncourting in fast cars, and KKK rallies. Innwhat passes for serious reflection on allnthis, we receive, courtesy of Faulkner,nthe insight that Southerners “are a ghostriddennpeople” haunted by a “burdennfrom the past.” As in the endless storiesnon, say, Jackie O. in the tabloids, there isnfinally less here than first meets the customer’sneyes.nWhat merits the book has, such as thentales of Jenny’s fearsome temper or thenaccounts of the folk customs of thenblacks, fail to cancel the nasty tone ofngossip permeating the book from thenopening chapter where the author swipesnat relatives who did not (and some whondid) make the journey to New York inn1954 for the funeral of Capote’s mother.nIndeed, Capote himself appears as anspoiled child. In his first appearance innthe book he is complaining that hisnmother should have waited a few daysnto take her fatal overdose so that hencould return as scheduled from Europe.nMrs. Rudisill establishes herself vis-a-visnCapote as the voice of conscience andnthe concerned friend, advising him thatnlife’s meaning resides in something (unspecified)nbesides casual sex (to whichnhe responds that sexual morality is bestn”left to the individual conscience”—ansuspiciously trendy remark for 1954).nYet she withholds until the last page theninformation that Capote, cutting all tiesnto the South of his childhood, has for 15nyears refused any contact with her.nCould it be that the woman who appearsn