Content Warning: This book deals with murder, as the title suggests. The book also addresses spousal abuse and suicide. This review mentions the murder but does not touch on the other topics.
The novel opens with a bit of snarky back-and-forth between Truman Capote and the Millionaire’s Wife of the title (Ann Woodward), establishing that the two are not on friendly terms. She allegedly uses a slur about his lifestyle (Truman Capote was openly gay) to describe him, and he calls her “Mrs. Bang Bang” (she shot her husband in 1955). The story then goes back (way back) to tell the story of how Capote and Woodward’s lives became intertwined and brought us to this opening moment in the Swiss Alps.
The bones of the story that this memoir/true crime novel is built around is that on October 30, 1955, following a string of burglaries in the Oyster Bay neighbourhood where the Woodwards had a home, Ann shot and killed her husband, William Woodward Jr. She had mistaken him for the prowler that was creeping around the neighbourhood and shot him with the gun she had taken into her room (separate bedrooms for the couple) while thinking she was defending her family and home.
That is not in question. Ann Woodward shot her husband, but accident or not is a bit in question. Let’s just say the fact that Ann was first the mistress of Woodward Jr.’s father and ended up with Jr. because the father suggested it (he wanted to make a man out of his son, and also keep his mistress around). Although Woodward Sr. never intended for his son to marry her is just part of the complicated (and toxic) relationship Ann and William were in.
The novel spends a fair chunk of time leading up to the events of October 30, 1955, splitting between Ann’s parents’ lives and her own, while also delving into Capote’s family and his life leading up to that October night. I can see what the author is getting at, drawing parallels between Truman and Ann’s social rise, and making comparisons between her and Capote’s mother, but it takes a while to unfold. Possibly because this is the second Capote-centric book I’ve read in the last six months, the rehashing of Capote’s early years left me longing to get back to Ann’s story.
I want to emphasize that a lot of time is spent on the backgrounds of the two titular characters. This reads more like a memoir of Ann Woodward, where part of her life story is this horrific event that happened between her and her husband. It’s true crime-ish in the sense that there was a murder, but there was a lot to her life before that, and this book illustrates that. If you’re not familiar with Capote and his history, this book also gives you insights into that, although not as much as it does for Ann.
In fact, I think there is a bit of misleading in the title of the book. Truman Capote gets his name dropped, but Anne is the Millionaire’s Wife. I know that obviously, Truman Capote has more weight than Ann Woodward, but I still feel Ann is getting slighted here. Also, while Capote’s history makes up a fair part of the first part of the book, over halfway through the book the reader is still waiting for the narrative to catch back up to the beginning and see Ann and Capote interact. There is a bit of a tease as it mentions Capote bringing the story back to life in 1975 and then –We jump back in time again and get a retelling of how In Cold Blood came to be.
Then there is more time with Truman, and it follows the publication of “La Côte Basque, 1965”, and then Ann’s death. Her life between the murder and death is not really recounted at all, and once she has left the narrative, the book wraps up with other women Truman took shots at in his fiction, providing some biographical details of them. Ann is now absent from a novel that her picture has been used to sell.
I felt the book couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to be: a biography of Ann or a biography of Truman Capote. To be clear, their lives intersect, but I found myself going “can we get back to Ann?” when we spent time going over Capote’s life. She also sort of vanishes from the tail end of the book, and while both Capote and Ann suffered a fall from social grace, I was more interested in her life.
So don’t pick up this book expecting a lot of time spent on a war of words or back and forth between Capote and Ann. But do pick up this book for a fascinating look into 1950s New York Society behaving very badly. And while other readers’ mileage and feelings may vary, I came away feeling a lot of sympathy for Anne. She got what she wanted for a while, but what a price was paid. I wish she got top billing in this title, but I also acknowledge I am part of the problem, as I picked it up because of Capote’s name.