Tuesday, May 26, 2020

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Release Date - February 1, 1994 (first published in 1965)
Publisher Website - Penguin Random House
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages - 343 pages
My Rating - 5/5
**borrowed from library**

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. At the center of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock, who, vividly drawn by Capote, are shown to be reprehensible yet entirely and frighteningly human. In Cold Blood is a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative. 
In Cold Blood is often referenced as the true crime novel to read. It routinely makes best of lists, and is considered an absolute classic. It is undoubtedly one of the first in its genre and laid the foundation for many books that followed. I was happy to discover that it really is as good as it is made out to be.

I find nonfiction books to be harder to review. You cannot critique the characters as they are real people and that just feels weird. You can, however, talk about the writing and the way the book is put together. Truman Capote was, to me, a very talented writer. He manages to make every facet of this story compelling and rich with detail. This, inevitably, becomes not just a story about the murders, or the people involved, but a snapshot of a particular piece of America. It is just as much a story of the town and how it is impacted by the murders and the aftermath as it is about the murders themselves. Capote brings the townsfolk to the forefront of the story in a way that gives it a little extra heart.

The question that tends to be on everyone's mind after something like this happens is the why. People want to make sense out of the horror and devastation. They want order and having a reason does that. If they know why they can come up with reasons that it won't happen to them. This book answers the why. It tells you the many different things that lead to that night in November. He paints a picture of who Perry and Dick are so completely, and outlines what lead them to the Clutter family's farm in a way that is both terrifying and yet blandly recognizable. These are not monsters, but rather two men who are shown to be all too human. This idea may not seem revolutionary today, but I am sure it was when the book was released.

The care to bring the Clutter family to life was something I noticed right away. It would have been easy to have the entire focus be on Perry and Dick. Capote had access to them that would have provided plenty of material for the book. However, time is taken to ensure we get to know the family who were brutally murdered. The inclusion of Nancy's friend added details about who she was that resonated with me. A typical highschool girl just beginning to discover who she was. There may not have been much focus on the family, but Capote made sure what he did include painted a lasting and striking picture of this family.

There are plenty of rumours about the extent of their relationship between Truman Capote and Perry Smith. There are some who claim that they became lovers. It is evident that they became close during the research Capote was doing, but to what extent is never directly addressed in the book. Capote remains, mostly, detached from the story as a character. His judgement never makes its way into the narrative. His way of writing may read like fiction, but his careful detailing reminds you of the work that went into the interviews and research. He is careful to let that shine here, and not his opinion. The point of all this is to say that if he was in love with Perry I don't think it comes through in his writing. His emotions are kept in check and that, to me, is impressive.

Truman Capote's long, and life changing dive into a horrific crime left its imprint not only on him and the town, but the literary world itself. Many more current true crime books owe their existence to Capote's much praised work. If you're someone with an interest in true crime I highly recommend this one. It's one that I would consider a must read in the genre.

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