in cold blood. by truman capote.
In 1959 Kansas the Clutter family were murdered in the early hours of the morning. The killers left no clues and there was no apparent motive. On assignment from The New Yorker, Truman Capote was sent to cover the story. “In Cold Blood” was the end result.
As an artist, Capote is a master of his medium. The original title of my blog was Plain Simple English. I think I’ll reclaim it. Because it seems to be the very thing that most draws me to literature. Mark Twain. Harper Lee – who, coincidentally, was Capote’s childhood friend and research assistant when he began this, his final novel. Hemingway. And Truman. There’s nothing forced or flowery about the way Capote writes. He handles the American language wish such ease, you hardly realise he’s handling it at all. And the detail…oh, the detail.
It would have been easy to tell the story of the the Clutter family and the men who murdered them in a sensational style. But Capote, the writer, saw an opportunity that appealed to his inner eccentric and the result was the creation of a new genre – true crime. According to Capote, all details, facts and conversations contained in “In Cold Blood” are drawn from interviews or public record, i.e. conversations Capote himself had with key figures or testimony/evidence taken from the criminal investigation and subsequent trial transcripts.
Though the novel is entirely ‘objective’, there’s a heavy focus on the life of one of the murderers, Perry Smith. And this is where it really messed with my head. When I felt myself being pulled into the life on the page and connecting, in a very emotional way, with the trauma of it all. Then I’d have to pull myself back with a ‘This isn’t a novel. It’s barely bearable. There is no justification.’ The Clutters were real. Nancy’s red dress was real. And she was buried in it.
Capote wasn’t ignorant of this undertone – and I don’t think he set out to create it. The history and the man (Perry Smith) were formed long before Capote entered the picture. He did, however, choose a very poignant title, more to make a point – I (Capote) offer no excuse – than to state a fact.
I expected a very visceral reaction to Truman’s book. What I didn’t expect was for it to act as a magnifying glass in examining the death penalty the way it did.
So, there we are. “In Cold Blood” is a literary masterpiece, as relevant today as it was when it was first published fifty years ago. It also raises quite a few (arguably) moral and sociological questions as well. You should read it. If only so you can come back and tell me I’m wrong.