Saturday, November 2, 2013

#61 (2013/CBR5) "In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote

I had, of course, heard of In Cold Blood (1966) by Truman Capote, and I think I've seen at least parts of Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Despite all this, reading an entire book on a series of grisly murders never really appealed to me. It wasn't until I saw In Cold Blood up at the top of a list of favorite non-fiction books on Goodreads, a list that was full of other books that I'd read and loved, that I figured I should see what I've been missing.

In Cold Blood tells the true and detailed story of two men who met in jail, got out on parole, and killed a family (the parents and two younger teenagers) at a rural farm in a small town in Kansas. Capote hits all sides of this crime. You learn all about the victims, the murderers, the hunt for the two men after the fact, the killers' run from the law, the trial, their ultimate punishment, and how all of this affected the people living in Holcomb, Kansas.

What kept me going in the beginning of the book was wanting to know the motivation for the crime. As I began reading, I didn't know exactly who was fated to be murdered. So, as I learned about each doomed family member, I was hoping that they would somehow survive and was always sad to learn that their lives were cut short. Capote managed to give me a great feel and caring for each character in a short time. I was, however, less interested in the stories of the two who committed the crime: Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. Their thinking and actions were so convoluted and nonsensical, I had a hard time understanding their motivations, actions, and attitudes. Although their background was helpful to learn, I was pretty much always looking forward to getting back to Holcomb and learning what was going on there. It was only at the end when Capote gave us the psychiatrist's insight into the two characters that I began to understand them a little better.

While I was reading I wondered what Capote was trying to do with this book. I worry about exploitation with topics such as these. This family had already been through terrible tragedy, and now people are digging into every aspect of their lives to satiate the demanding curiosity of a morbid public--especially when those crimes have just occurred and are fresh on the public's mind. But at the same time, it's refreshing to read an account that takes the time to get the details right instead of screaming out some sensational headlines and not caring about the people involved.

I did read online that there have been allegations that Capote made up some of the scenes in his book. I definitely find that annoying. If you're going to call your story true, then don't make shit up! Apparently, the scenes involved, though, were relatively minor, so it doesn't take away from the overall story.

I can see how this book became a classic. I've read non-fiction books similar in style, but none written before 1966. It sounds like this was a trailblazer in its field, creating the true crime drama. It was kind of dark, and certainly sad and depressing, but interesting and well written. I'm glad I read it.

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