Jan 23 2010

In Cold Blood

While waiting for a call from the garage on the status of my Jeep, I finished the last pages of Truman Capote’s 1966 novel, “In Cold Blood“. The story was published the year before in the New Yorker, a magazine for people that can make it through 1000s of words of literary self-masturbation without falling dead asleep. I need purpose in the poems and stories that I read. I can’t stand wading through a traffic-jam of words only to find that the words themselves were the only purpose for the piece. Capote wrote for the New Yorker long before I ever picked-up a copy (and fell asleep on the toilet) and delivers from the very beginning. Four shotgun blasts ring out on page three. The rest of the book tries to explain why.

“In Cold Blood” is a collection of many stories woven together, each stemming from the interviews of those affected by the 1959 quadruple murder. Truman Capote and Harper Lee (of “To Kill a Mockingbird” fame) traveled to west Kansas to write an article on the Clutter family murders prior to the identification and capture of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. The book outlines their subsequent incarcerations, trials, and sentencing. What sets this book apart is that Capote interviewed the murderers and was able to reconstruct their lives leading up to the night of November 15th and give insight into the minds of the condemned.

An interesting addendum to “In Cold Blood” are the criticisms of it. While the book has been lauded as a pioneer of True Crime stories, many have questioned the book’s veracity. Capote did not take notes or recordings during his interviews in Kansas, preferring instead to write quotes and summaries afterward (he claimed “over 90%” retention). There is also the question of whether Perry and Dick were in a homosexual relationship (some have suggested that Dick’s intentions to rape Nancy Clutter may have angered Perry and sparked the murders). Capote, a liberated homosexual himself, never addressed this in the book. His sympathetic handling of Perry’s character however has led some to believe that he developed a “fondness” for the young man awaiting the gallows. While these criticisms might pitch the balance from non-fiction to fiction, they do nothing to detract from the storytelling itself. A compelling book from start to finish.

“Then it was real quiet again. Except that dog. Old Andy, he danced a long time. They must have had a real mess to clean up…” “…The fact is, his heart kept beating for nineteen minutes.”

4 out of 5