BY Terence Trouillot in Opinion | 26 APR 24

Editor’s Picks: Truman Capote and His Swans Become TV Gold

From Jay Owens’s riveting new book on dust to a Martyr Made Podcast series addressing our political collapse into subterfuge and McCarthyism

BY Terence Trouillot in Opinion | 26 APR 24

Frieze Editor’s Picks is a fortnightly column in which a frieze editor shares their recommendations for what to watch, read and listen to.

Feud: Capote vs. The Swans (2024)

Ryan Murphy’s second season of Feud, an FX anthology series devoted to the eponymous subject, takes on the horrid dispute between American writer Truman Capote – played wonderfully by Tom Hollander, whose performance rivals that of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote (2005) – and his so-called ‘swans’: the rich housewives of New York’s high society. The show is based on Laurence Leamer's book Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era (2021), and chronicles Capote’s fallout with friend Barbara ‘Babe’ Paley and her socialite cronies after his 1975 Esquire article ‘La Côte Basque, 1965’ detailed the dirty secrets of his swans’ personal lives.

The series’ star-studded cast also includes Diane Lane, Chloë Sevigny, Calista Flockhart, Demi Moore, Molly Ringwald, and Treat Williams. It’s a wildly entertaining tale of betrayal and deceit – as well as a thoughtful meditation on upward class mobility and status envy – brimming with the kind of wit of lore that feels all but lost among the nouveau riche and martini-guzzling WASPs of today’s generation. A glimpse of what The Real Housewives (2006–ongoing) could have been if aired three decades prior.

Jay Owens, Dust: The Modern World in a Trillion Particles (2023)

Earlier this year, I received an email from a friend, the author Justin Beal, erroneously thanking me for recommending this title to him. I had never heard of the book – an exegesis by Jay Owens on the most minute and unassuming of subject matters, dust – but was suitably intrigued on reading Justin’s glowing endorsement. Owens gives herself the impossible task of making the tiniest of particles seem interesting throughout 300-odd pages; fortunately for us, she does so with considerable aplomb.

Jay Owens, Dust: The Modern World in a Trillion Particles
Jay Owens, Dust: The Modern World in a Trillion Particles, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: Hodder & Stoughton

In nimble, crisp prose, she weaves together the many social and ecological histories of ‘human-made’ dust – from the Los Angeles water wars which caused the desiccation of the Owens Lake, to the over-farming of the Great Plains, leading to the catastrophic Dust Bowl of the 1930s and the displacement of Indigenous populations. Though itself formless, dust gives Owens a structure with which to speak of the ills of climate change and environmental racism, showing us just how much dust has become a larger byproduct of the Anthropocene, something with which we as a species must contend, not only in terms of our suffering ecology but also our increasingly frayed social fabric.

Martyr Made Podcast: Fear & Loathing in the New Jerusalem (201516)

Like many of us, the current war in Palestine has left me in a state of hopelessness and despair, desperately looking for answers while also petrified at the level of hysteria, blacklisting and injustice that has surfaced across the world since Hamas’s violent attacks on 7 October 2023 and Israel’s subsequent fiendish retaliation against Palestine and its people. I, for one, was also made soberly aware of my ignorance concerning the layered history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was eager to learn more. On top of reading as much as could in recent months, I also turned to Daryl Cooper’s Martyr Made Podcast and its first series of episodes ‘Fear & Loathing in the New Jerusalem’, which was originally published in 2015.

Spread across six episodes and several hours of tape, Cooper endeavours to give an almost complete overview of the topic, from Theodor Herzl and the First Zionist Congress in Basel in the era of the antisemitic Dreyfus trials in France, through to the Balfour Declaration and the Arab revolutionary leader Izz ad-Dīn al-Qassām who fought against British and French rule in the Levant and the firm embedding of Zionism in the region. I will warn that Cooper has a kind of annoying history-bro sensibility in his approach to the subject; his occasional self-indulgent, pontificating tangents often feel out-of-place. But overall the erudite host gives a very measured and in-depth history of the conflict that is enlightening, and which feels all the more vital in this moment of subterfuge and McCarthyism.

Main image: Jay Owens, Dust: The Modern World in a Trillion Particles, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: Hodder & Stoughton

Terence Trouillot is senior editor of frieze. He lives in New York, USA.