Book Review — _In Cold Blood_, by Truman Capote

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We all have our souls and we all have facades
and then there’s something in between that makes us function as people.
That’s what I have the ability to communicate.
–Truman Capote, in the introduction to, In Cold Blood.

Truman then proceeds to do just that. He meticulously details each of the Clutter Family members by their looks, their hobbies, their social connections, performance, and context within their community. But more than that, it is his knack for including the bits that the human in us recognizes, reaches out to, and connects with in a tangible way that is masterful.

It is impressive to be able to effect it with the innocent victims of a heinous tragedy. What may be even more startling is how he able to do the same with the killers.

Truman is not the only author to use it, but one of the things I love about the format of the book is alternating chapters between two, separate, story lines and then have them slowly converge towards each other.

The author first introduces the Clutters: father/husband, Herb; mother/wife, Bonnie; daughter/sister, Nancy; and son/brother, Kenyon. Their residence is described, the house, the outbuildings, the landscape, and the things that fill them in.

Then the same is done with the two killers, Dick and Perry. These two’s story lines separate and converge again and again but never for too long. Their chapters also consistently travel back and forth in time, looking at circumstances, events, and individuals who shaped their characters.

Through a large bulk of the book the alternating chapters continue, with the Clutter chapters showing the family innocently going about their business of living in the small Holcomb, Kansas community; and the killer’s chapters chronicling their cross-country road trip full of petty crime and scrounging for lodging, food, and the naive or gullible to exploit. Again, the author deftly injects details that show the two separate tracks growing closer in time and space. Although the focal point that drives the story is the murder of the family, the actual intersection between them is only an hour or so.

The alternating chapters continue after the murder, but now they are between the community and law enforcement responses and the killers. Again, the drawing near between the two as law enforcement begins to close in on their capture.

The last section of the book covers the trials, the verdicts, the appeals, and the final outcome.

If I were to describe, In Cold Blood as a painting, I would say it is a canvas of varied monochromes of light and dark with startling splashes of color.

What had the most impact on me while, and after, reading it is how both cavalier and studied thoughts of good and evil manifest themselves within humans and then spill out upon others.

A few of many favorite passages from the book:

Description of the Postmistress of Holcomb:
Mrs. Clare is a gaunt, trouser-wearing, woolen-shirted, cowboy-booted, ginger-colored, gingery-tempered woman of unrevealed age … but promptly revealed opinions, most of which are announced in a voice of rooster-crow altitude and penetration.

Bonnie:
I was terribly sure trees were the same as birds or people. That they thought things, and talked among themselves. And we could hear them if we really tried. It was just a matter of emptying your head of all other sounds. Being very quiet and listening very hard. Sometimes I still believe that. But one can never get quiet enough …

Description of the town cemetery:
Valley View Cemetery, that gray-and-green island of tombs and trees and flowered paths, a restful, leafy, whispering oasis lying like a cool piece of cloud shade on the luminous wheat plains north of town.

Dick’s pedophilia:
Now a young girl, probably twelve, was drawing figures in the sand, carving out big, crude faces with a piece of driftwood. Dick, pretending to admire her art, offered the shells he had gathered. “They make good eyes,” he said. The child accepted the gift, whereupon Dick smiled and winked at her. He was sorry he felt as he did about her, for his sexual interest in female children was a failing of which he was “sincerely ashamed” – a secret he’d not confessed to anyone and hoped no one suspected (though he was aware that Perry had reason to), because other people might not think it was “normal.” That to be sure, was something he was certain he was – “a normal.”

Perry’s suicide ideation:
“Oh, come let us adore Him, Oh, come let us adore Him”: a cathedral choir, an exalted music that moved Perry to tears – which refused to stop, even after the music did. And as was not uncommon when he was thus afflicted, he dwelt upon a possibility that had for him “tremendous fascination”: suicide. As a child he had often thought of killing himself, but those were sentimental reveries born of a wish to punish his father and mother and other enemies. From young manhood onward, however, the prospect of ending his life had more and more lost its fantastic quality. That, he must remember, was Jimmy’s “solution,” and Fern’s, too. And lately it had come to seem not just an alternative but the specific death awaiting him.

About townsfolk, reporters, etc. waiting for captured suspects, Dick and Perry, to arrive at the courthouse where they would be tried:
Among Garden City’s animals are two gray tomcats who are always together – thin, dirty strays with strange and clever habits. The chief ceremony of their day is performed at twilight. First they trot the length of Main Street, stopping to scrutinize the engine grilles of parked automobiles, particularly those stationed in front of the two hotels, the Windsor and Warren, for these cars, usually the property of travelers from afar, often yield what the bony, methodical creatures are hunting: slaughtered birds – crows, chickadees, and sparrows foolhardy enough to have flown into the path of oncoming motorists. Using their paws as though they are surgical instruments, the cats extract from the grilles every feathery particle. Having cruised Main Street, they invariably turn the corner at Main and Grant, then lope along toward Courthouse Square, another of their hunting grounds – and a highly promising one on the afternoon of Wednesday, January 6, for the area swarmed with Finney County vehicles that had brought to town part of the crowd populating the square.

19 Comments Add yours

  1. I read it such a long time ago. Youtube now has videos that refer to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      It’s the textbook on how to write a non-fiction novel. It’s a specialized genre that I think Capote created.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like a great novel!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Some of the best writing I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, despite the disturbing subject matter.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. this book DEEPLY affected me as a teen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      I can understand why it would, as a teen. It’s having that affect on me also.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. ghostmmnc says:

    I read this many years ago. I think it might have been the first true crime book I’d ever read. I’ve read many more since, but this one is unforgettable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      I understand why you find it unforgettable. Some of the details are truly haunting in their poignance, beauty, and/or horror. Mostly I feel a pervasive sadness after reading it 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  5. memadtwo says:

    When I was in high school I stayed up all night reading this book. No sleep after that! (K)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      It’s one of those books once you get started on you can’t put it down.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. badfinger20 (Max) says:

    I’ve watched documentaries about what happen and a doc about the book…itself. It looks ike it lives up to it’s billing.
    He never equaled this again from what I read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      The docs you saw probably give “just the facts.” What makes this book extraordinary is his writing skill. I also read that about his further writing. I think the time he spent putting this together and the emotional investment in both the work and the individuals he got to know and care about took a lot out of him 😦 Just like his good friend, Harper Lee, who never wrote another novel (other than I think something unfinished that was later published and regarded as not very good.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. badfinger20 (Max) says:

        I think also…just trying to follow this up would have been a herculean task. I mean nothing he could have done would have matched this in the public eyes.
        Even his critics loved this book. Truman was a complicated guy. I’ve seen his earlier interviews and his later ones…he kinda became like a caricature of himself later on…so yea I do agree it took a lot out of him. He poured his soul in this book.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. msjadeli says:

          Max, not sure where I saw or read it, but Capote really connected with Perry Smith, one of the killers. They had similarities in their childhoods and I think both had similar “sexual ambiguities” that may have complicated things in Capote’s eyes.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. badfinger20 (Max) says:

            Yes I can see that…from what I’ve read he would complicate many things…but with Perry it was probably natural…and he really cared also…I think that is why the book was so good. Most writers usually don’t get too involved.

            Liked by 1 person

  7. Carol anne says:

    Hi, is this a true story, true crime? It sounds wonderful! My type of read for sure! Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Carol anne, it is an “infamous” true crime that took place back in 1959 in Holcomb, Kansas, where 4 family members were murdered, “in cold blood.”

      Like

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