Saturday, 23 April 2011

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

GENRE: crime fiction

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. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

In Cold Blood is an amazing piece of fiction detailing the murder of four members of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. Truman Capote researched the event in detail, interviewing everyone involved, even the two murderers who committed the heinous crime. Capote said, “I spent four years on and off in that part of Western Kansas there during the research for that book and then the film. What was it like? It was very lonely. And difficult. Although I made a lot of friends there. I had to, otherwise I never could have researched the book properly. The reason was I wanted to make an experiment in journalistic writing, and I was looking for a subject that would have sufficient proportions. (…) [I]was looking for something very special that would give me a lot of scope. (…) And one day I was gleaning The New York Times, and way on the back page I saw this very small item. And it just said, "Kansas Farmer Slain. Family of Four Is Slain in Kansas." A little item just about like that. And the community was completely nonplussed, and it was this total mystery of how it could have been, and what happened.”

I can say that he definitely succeeded in unveiling the mystery and wrote a gripping page-turner about a true event, using people’s real names, their quotes and every little detail he discovered during his long research and stay in Kansas. The book reads like a novel, but all the while there is the knowledge that those things really happened, which makes it a thrilling experience.

There are two things I must point out about this novel, as I absolutely loved them. The first one is the order the events are presented. The actual murder – the way it took place – is reserved for the final portion of the book, which creates suspense. First, Truman plays on the strings of the reader’s emotions. He presents the final day of the Clutter family in detail, revealing their hobbies, their aspirations, their popularity in the Holcomb community, thus shaping them into real people whose lives were cruelly and unjustly taken from them. Then, their bodies are discovered and Capote presents the shock, the confusion, the sadness of their friends, as well as the fear of the entire community that something like this might strike them, too. No one knows the motive of the heinous crime and they have absolutely no clues. The murder itself is omitted and the reader is left to speculate how it happened, just as the Holcomb police and citizens did. This way, Capote creates a natural flow of events, putting the reader into the position of those people who lives in Holcomb in 1959, clueless as to what happened and why.

The second thing I really loved is the presentation of the murderers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock. He presents them in absolute detail, focusing on every aspect of their lives, good and bad, just as was done with the Clutter family. Capote does not seek to excuse them, but he also does not blame them. He presents them – as a true journalist – as they truly were. He reveals the chronology of their lives, focusing on their mentality in particular. He presents them as human beings who, one day, killed four people. Yet one cannot help but sympathise with them and that is exactly what Capote allows the reader to do. I still think they did a terrible thing that was inexcusable, but Capote presents those shades of grey we often tend to ignore. He makes the reader understand the killers before judging them, not just having the reader simply judge them and be done with it. Capote takes the stance that even those we see as monsters have their reasons. A sad and abusive childhood, and an innate tendency towards violence may not be an excuse, but they explain why people do certain things and by understanding them may actually help us cope with a tragedy like murder. The then developing science of forensic psychology is presented and death sentence discussed. In this respect, the novel is delightfully provocative, as it really makes the reader think and ponder on certain important issues. Not everything is black and white and although we may not be inclined to accept other shades of colours, we have to acknowledge them.

The murder itself is described in detail as well, which was a chilling reading experience, yet intriguing as well, precisely because it is stated exactly what Perry and Dick were thinking about when the trigger of the shotgun (their murder weapon) was pulled four times. I found the final part – the trial – to be the most thrilling part to read about. It is the part that discusses whether death sentence is a justified means of punishing a criminal, as well as whether killers are truly monsters or merely human beings who committed a grave sin, for which they must repent and pay. It is, as I’ve said, a provocative section of the book, but rewarding as such.

I admit that there were two or three times when the book dragged for me, as perhaps too many pieces of information were included about people that were not crucial to the story, but other than that, this novel is a literary gem. It is a true page turner and I whole-heartedly recommend it to everyone. It is a novel unlike any other.

I read the novel for my personal American Classics Challenge and for the What's in a Name 4 Challenge, section Evil.

THIS MISS RATES: / (4.5 stars)


Laura @ A Jane of All Reads said...

I've attempted to read this book three different times in my life and though I'm ashamed to admit it, I just don't think I'll ever get through it. Glad you did though. You get points.

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

First, nice new background and header! I was a little surprised at first because I'm so used to your old one but I like it!

I've meant to give this a try because of its unique inspiration for Capote but I have trouble reading about real-life crimes, even if they're fictionalized here.

Jo K said...

Great review! I don't know why I have always thought Capote would be boring, but you make it sound so interesting I have to stop avoiding him and read at least this book.

Linda said...

I did enjoyed this one too. Great review!

Blodeuedd said...

Not for me, but I truly enjoyed your review, and I really should branch out more and try books like this one too