Friday, November 28, 2014

in cold blood

Truman Capote was a reporter as well as a writer, and did quite a few short stories as well as novels. I think that mixture of writing talents helped him hone his craft. In Cold Blood is basically a long newspaper story. That's the ways its written anyway. Matter-of-fact, emotionless recitation of the way the story happened, with an eye toward careful unrolling of how it happened. Capote comes right out at the beginning and tells you what happens in the end. Everyone knows at that point, its been in the news for years. There isn't a person in America that hasn't heard what happened to the simple, proud family of four late one November night in the cold Kansas moonlight.

What Capote's readers want to know is how it happened, and maybe more importantly, why it happened. Capote did the research, read the court documents, and I think he even talked to the killers, multiple times. In fact, I think he may have been there throughout the court proceedings and the penalty. Capote had access to their own words, through testimony, interviews, personal correspondence, and he used it whenever he could to fill in the blanks. He even included letters from their families,* sometimes complete, to tell the story of these two men, the lives they led, and how they came to be at the home of the Clutter family, in Holcomb Kansas that night.

The take away: these two men were there to rob the family, based on bad information that there was anything in the home to steal. Apparently, killing the family wasn't the prime objective. That's what makes it so horrifying, there was no money to steal. So how did it happen? And why did these people have to die?

Capote does a good job explaining those points, as best he can. The thing is, normal people just can't understand why people are murdered in cold blood. You can read about it--and you should, this is a good book--but I'm not sure there ever will be a good understanding of why people do what they do. Capote seems to think its because they have no feelings for anyone else but themselves. Maybe 55 years ago they didn't have a name for that, but they do now.

Read this book. Maybe leave a light on. Maybe lock the door, too.

 * Capote changed the family names of the killer's families when he could, presumably to protect the family member's privacy.

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