Friday, March 25, 2011
Review of In Cold Blood (Truman Capote)
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 a true-crime novel depicting a crime that has happened more than fifty years ago. Capote was intrigued by the apparent emotionless killing of a family of four and tried to reconstruct the events, perhaps to find the meaning behind it.
Truth is, there was no meaning, except greed and perhaps lust. Four people died, because of someone blabbing in prison, someone else taking it too seriously and yet another taking it too far. Of all the ways this could have been prevented, it didn't stop it from happening.
The story itself is divided in parts. The first part revolves around the Clutter family, you get to know Clutter senior, his wife and two youngest children who still lived at home, preparing themselves for Thanksgiving to come while doing the daily tasks that every farm brings along.
The next part focusses on the preparations of the two culprits and their eventual doing of the crime, although its not mentioned until later in the book, when they are eventually caught, what precisely happened.
The third part can be divided in two. On one side it's about the struggle of the detectives to find out what happened, why it happened and who it did. On the other side you have Perry and Dick, the two murderers, on a crime spree across the United States with a quick stop in Mexico. Their behaviour is erratic to say the least, as if they don't grasp the enormity of what they did one night in Kansas.
The last part, is when they are caught by the police, due to them turning back. They give a complete account of what happened that night, passively sit through their trial and in the end have their punishment fulfilled.
My general feeling about this novel is ambiguous. The subject, the crime, is horrendous and with Capote's vividness in describing it, I got chills more than once. He also tried to make you feel compassionate about the two killers, as you delve deeper in how and why they are what they are, but somehow you feel distant from them, secretly rooting for them to slip up and get caught.
It might have been different if you got to know them before they commited the crime, but as it was, I never felt compassionate. Even with a sorry childhood, that's no excuse to kill four innocent people.
One thing that did irritate me about this book, and that was the constant repitition. In the end you get several accounts of what happened, all very detailed, but very much the same also and it slowed down the emotional engagement I felt earlier in the book.
In the end, for my first true-crime novel, it wasn't bad. It was written well, but somehow I couldn't manage to read more than a dozen pages a day, which explains why it took me so long. Maybe it's the fact, that for once reading wasn't an escape, but more of a wake up call. "Look what can happen, look what has happened already. "
I do recommend it, for those interested in reading of the more horrendous crimes in the late fifties, early sixties. The Clutter family might not have earned international fame, but they do deserve some credit of having become involuntary leading roles in a novel that shouldn't have been written in the first place, if you think about it. Not that Capote made a mistake, but I think we all rather saw Nancy Clutter marry her highschool sweetheart instead of eternal glory in a Truman Capote novel.