Sunday, August 17, 2008

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote

Title: In Cold Blood
Author: Truman Capote
Date Finished: August 17, 2008 # 47
Pages: 343
Rating: 4.25/5

It was difficult for me to read this book without my impressions on the movie Capote coloring my reaction. I was so fascinated by the movie and Capote's obsession with the crime and the killers that I had hoped some of that would leak into his writing, but I saw only one or two places where it could be argued Capote might have written himself into the book. Neither here nor there as this book was just as intriguing as the movie--only in a different way.

In Cold Blood is an in depth look at the horrific slaying of the Clutters, a prosperous and well-loved family, in the small Kansas town of Holcomb in November 1959. Four members of the family, the mother and father and their two teenage children, were tied up and shot with a shotgun after what appeared to be a failed robbery (as Mr. Clutter did not keep any money at the house). The family was found the next day by close friends.

Most of the novel moves back and forth between the two killers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, as they travel around the nation after the killing and the slow-moving investigation for a crime that seemed to have no motive and absolutely no evidence. I am guessing that when Truman Capote visited Smith and Hickock several times over their years in prison he was able to get very detailed accounts of their lives because most of the book contains narratives from the killers themselves--how they planned the robbery/murder, what they did after the crime was committed, and how they saw the crime in relation to their own belief systems and who they were.

I don't read a lot of crime fiction or even true crime books, but this book was absolutely captivating--once I got into the meat of the story I couldn't put the book down. First and foremost In Cold Blood is a heartbreaking account of how a family with so much promise was senselessly and brutally murdered for what basically amounted to forty bucks. Second, in the book we get an intimate glimpse at the lives of the killers and their motives. In the end, though, I still don't see any justification for what they did--why or how someone could commit such a heinous crime.

From what I understand, Capote revolutionized the concept of the nonfiction novel. I was talking to my college roommate, who received her masters in criminal justice and who read this book a few years ago, and she mentioned that the book was interesting but only really contained the cold hard facts. I guess that is where I see differently--while the book did contain the grisly facts of what happened, it was also written as a literary work. Capote takes special care in his writing to bring the characters alive but to also create a fitting ambiance for the story. While a lot of the book is contained in quotes from interviews and other documents, Capote's writing aptly captures the setting and attitudes surrounding the story. While this book isn't going to be for everyone (and no--it isn't too gory, considering), I think that the writing and what Capote is seeking to do with this work can be appreciated by many.

Did you read it? What did you think? Here are some other reviews:
Nymeth from Things Mean a Lot
Raidergirl3 from An Adventure in Reading


Literary Feline said...

I had the same impression about Capote's writing--that while it contained the facts, it also was written from a more literary perspective, which I think, in part, makes it so popular even today.

It was such a terrible and cold blooded crime. My heart went out to that family and all their friends and family. I am not sure we will ever fully understand what makes people commit such horrid crimes.

Great review, Trish!

Ana S. said...

I agree with you, it has more than just the facts. I guess you can say it's "just the facts" in the sense that his writing is not intrusive, and he avoids speculation, but at the same time he also adds a very unique perspective. And that's what makes this book so memorable.

Darlene said...

Great review Trish! I've not read this but from your review it looks as if I should. I've always liked true crime stories so I imagine I would like this one.

Kim L said...

Great review! I'm sure a classic like this is hard to review. It sounds really interesting though!

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Lit Feline - I think the way that it was written helps with the modern appeal, but also I think we are continually trying to figure out the minds of such people which makes this a fascinating read today even if some of the pyschology might be out of date.

*Nymeth - I was actually surprised at how objective Capote remained in the writing, especially when the movie portrayed him to be anything but.

*Dar - If you like true crime, I definitely think this would be a one to read! Like I said in my thoughts--it might not be a book that everyone likes, but I think a lot of us readers can appreciate it still.

*Kim - LOL - I had a hard time cutting out stuff with this review! There was so much that the book talked about that I could have touched upon. It is a good book!

Thoughts of Joy said...

I've had this book checked out from the library several times and I have had it on my iPod for 2 years, and I still haven't read/listened to it. I almost deleted it the other day (off my iPod) to make room for something else and decided to hold onto it a little while longer. I think I have already decided to do away with it, though. I've seen the movie since putting it on any TBR list, so it feels like a reread to me (which I do not do). I'll watch a movie after a book, but I don't like to do it in reverse. I'm glad you liked it, though. My DH read it and thought it was very good, too.

Meredith said...

Wasn't this a fascinating novel? In a rare case, I actually really enjoyed the film as well (released a few years ago). Normally, I much prefer the novel to the film, but you might want to watch it after reading the book. The film left me with the impression that the author was terribly equivocated about what he'd done in writing the novel.

Anonymous said...

This book really is a masterpiece of nonfiction. I agree with the others here who've said that it was so much more than the sum of its parts. True, Capote stuck to the facts of the case, but the writing itself just put me there in the house, on the hunt for the killers, in prison with them, etc. I can see how seeing Capote (or Infamous, another Capote biopic that I strongly recommend) would affect one's reading of ICB, and I would recommend reading the book first. The whole story is fascinating, and hearing how it affected Capote himself just adds to it.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Joy - are you referring to the movie In Cold Blood or Capote? I haven't seen the first one but have seen Capote. Enough time has passed since I've seen Capote that it was like reading this book with a clean slate--usually I don't like reading books after I've seen the movie either. I think if you've seen the movie there isn't going to be much else in the book for you--but if you aren't referring to Capote, I would certainly recommend that one!

*Bellezza - If you're referring to Capote, I did see the film when it was released and I found it absolutely fascinating. I had kind of expected the book to involve Capote the person a little more; I was surprised at how objective the writing was.

*Teresa - I haven't seen Infamous--unfortunately I think it was poorly timed with its release following Capote. I'll have to check it out, though. I agree with you, Teresa, that the writing in this book is what makes it worth reading. Considering we know that outcome of the story at the very beginning, Capote does a wonderful job of holding his audience captive.

Thoughts of Joy said...

I was referring to the movie In Cold Blood.

Debi said...

Wow, Trish...wonderful review! I can't believe how both you and Nymeth did such a fabulous job reviewing this. I wouldn't have even known where to begin. (Glad I read it looooong before my blogging days.)

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Joy - I haven't seen that version. I'd recommend Capote with Phillip Seymour Hoffman as well--not the *best* movie but Hoffman does a fantastic/creepy job as Capote.

*Debi - It was difficult to write this review and I give more of the plot than I usually do (although it is never a secret in the book what happens). Did you like this one?