Sunday, April 10, 2011

In Cold Blood

Before CSI: Miami was 48 Hours, and Dateline NBC. Before those came...America's Most Wanted. Whether based on current headlines or in the chronicling of a true crime, we have created a long-standing niche for the writers of the gory, the depraved, the heart-wrenching nightmare events of families not too unlike our own. The popularity of these shows owe a debt to Truman Capote and his and 1965 best seller In Cold Blood.

For better of worse, I would argue that investigative journalism became entertainment with its publishing. An engrossing, hard-to-tear-your-eyes-away read. With In Cold Blood, Capote is a master of suspense.

Blame it on the internet age, but I have a hard time wading through pages of detailed description. Get to the point already! However, once I actually sat still and began reading the long, incredibly descriptive text, I found myself sucked in, despite ever-present distractions and the temptation to just skip to the "good parts."
Maybe I should have been prepared for it, knowing a little about the style of Capote's writing already. But wasn't. I was hit like a Mac truck as he set the stage for the telling of the gruesome 1959 murder of the Clutter family in Kansas.

Case in Point: "Normally, Nancy would willingly have taught Jolene to prepare an entire turkey dinner: she felt it her duty to be available when younger girls came to her wanting help with their cooking, their sewing, or their music lessons --or, as often happened, to confide. Where she found the time, and still managed to "practically run that big house" and be a straight-A student, the present of her class, a leader in the 4-H program and the Young Methodists League, a skilled rider, and excellent musician (piano, clarinet), and annual winner at the county fair (pastry, preserves, needlework, flower arrangement) --how a girl not yet seventeen could haul such a wagonload, and do so without "brag" with, rather merely a radiant jauntiness, was an enigma the community pondered, and solved by saying, "She's go character. Get's it from her old man." Page 18

The things we learn about the Clutter family, the pastoral setting of Holcomb, Kansas and the dynamics of the small town in that paragraph! It packs a punch. Capote is nothing if not thorough. The book takes us from the days prior to the murders, all the way through chase, capture and execution of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, years later.

Capote does toe the line a bit on maintaining journalistic objectivity but it works here, drawing from the reader a kind of compassion for the murderers in one moment, and repulsion of them in the next. Pycho-sexual undertones written in the awkward, clipped thought and speech patterns of Hickock and Smith ( Page. 124: "Of course, Perry could have struck out on his own, stayed in Mexico, let Dick go where he damn well wanted. Why not? Hadn't he always been "a loner," and without any "real friends"...? But he was afraid to leave Dick; merely to consider it made him feel "sort of sick," as though he were trying to make up his mind to "jump off a train going ninety-nine miles an hour." The basis of his fear, or so he himself seemed to believe was a newly grown superstitious certainty that "whatever had to happen won't happen" as long as he and Dick "stick together." Then too, the severity of Dick's "wake-up" speech, the belligerence with which he'd proclaimed his theretofore concealed opinion of Perry's dreams and hopes--all this, perversity being what it is, appealed to Perry, hurt and shocked him but charmed him, almost revived his former faith in the tough, the "totally masculine," the pragmatic, the decisive Dick he'd once allowed to boss him.") Sinister still was the deliberate comparison to the outlaw pair of the slow, painful deterioration of a town whose trust in one another was irreparably shattered in one night.

It was a haunting read that stuck with me for many days and nights afterward. Good for plane rides and rainy Sunday afternoons in the coffee shop.

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