Sunday, January 03, 2016

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)

My lovely friend Joolie loaned me her copy of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966) after I mentioned I'd always wanted to read it. Of course, when I got it home I realized that Dr. M already had a copy, but that didn't stop me from hanging on to Joolie's copy forever and finally reading it. Thanks, Joo!

And, as anticipated, I really really liked this one. After the Clutter family was murdered in their home in small-town Western Kansas in 1959, Capote and his friend, Harper Lee, traveled to Kansas with the idea that he could write about the crime and the investigation. He quickly became close to the lead investigator and was able to get significant details about the crime and the family. The killers, Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Smith were found and arrested about six weeks after the murders, after a trip to Florida, Mexico, California, and eventually back to Kansas. Capote was able to closely interview the killers as well, and kept in touch with them through their long stay on death row up until their executions in 1965. When Capote published his book in 1966 it quickly became a best seller and is still the best selling true crime book of all time.

By today's standards, this is not anywhere near unbiased journalism, and from some cursory online research, it sounds like some facts of the murders and the lives of the townspeople and killers were exaggerated or skipped over for narrative effect. In the book itself, we get zero acknowledgement of Capote and Lee as the interviewers or writers -- the narrative unravels like a novel, bouncing between the Clutters, Hickock and Smith, and the investigation. I'd love to know more about what Capote actually did as he was researching this book and a lot more about Harper Lee's contributions (this dissertation, for example, sounds fascinating). I saw the Philip Seymour Hoffman movie a few years ago (and I'd like to see it again having read the book), but I'm not sure what sources that version of Capote's methods is based on. I'm sure there is a great biography of Capote out there, and I'd love to read it.

Of course, regardless of how he did it and how much the book really reflects what happened, this is a wonderfully written and engrossing piece of fiction/non-fiction. It makes you feel hopeful and hopeless at the same time, and does a nice job of making both the "good" and "evil" characters complex and human, without making excuses for the murders or making the victims into saints. If you (like me) somehow got through life without reading this before, you should probably pick it up soon. I have a copy I can loan you...

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