Music for Chameleons (1980) is a collection of short fiction and non-fiction by the American author Truman Capote. Capote’s first offering of new material in 14 years, Music for Chameleons spent an unprecedented (for a collection of short works) 16 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
The book is divided into three sections. Part one, titled “Music for Chameleons”, includes the short story after which the section and book are named, as well as five other stories (“Mr. Jones”, “A Lamp in a Window”, “Mojave”, “Hospitality” and “Dazzle”). Part two, the core of the book, consists of a single piece: “Handcarved Coffins”, supposedly a “nonfiction account of an American crime” that suggests certain parallels with his best-known work, the difference being that Capote did not include himself as a character in the narrative when he wrote In Cold Blood.
In the third section, “Conversational Portraits”, Capote recalls his encounters with Pearl Bailey, Bobby Beausoleil, Willa Cather, Marilyn Monroe and others. These seven essays are titled “A Day’s Work”, “Hello, Stranger”, “Hidden Gardens”, “Derring-Do”, “Then It All Came Down”, “A Beautiful Child” and “Nocturnal Turnings.”
In the preface of the collection, Capote claims to have suffered a drug and alcohol-induced nervous breakdown in 1977, at which point he ceased working on his highly anticipated follow-up to In Cold Blood, Answered Prayers, portions of which had elicited a riotous reaction in the jet set when excerpted in Esquire magazine throughout 1975 and 1976. This is most likely the truth, although Capote would often contradict that statement and claim that the publication of the novel was imminent until his death in 1984.