Sunday, August 30, 2009

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote

This book is often defined as the original nonfiction novel on account of the true story, expansive research and outstanding narration on part of Truman Capote. The story is about the brutal murders of Herbert Clutter, a wealthy farmer, his wife and two children in the town of Holcomb in western Kansas. The killers, Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Smith, were arrested and sentenced to death later.
The perpetrators of the crime were never a secret in the book, the reader knows all along that Dick Hickock and Perry Smith are the murderers. What is kept under wraps is the manner in which the executions were carried out. The story is pretty simple, but the real beauty of the novel is in its treatment.
How the book was conceived:
The New York Times On November 16, 1959 published an account of the murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, a small town in western Kansas. This prompted Truman Capote to travel to Holcomb to investigate the murders. The case became such an obsession for him that he remained in Holcomb for six years until the case was finally closed. He interviewed the people of Holcomb, the investigator from Kansas Beurau of Investigation Al Dewey, and poured over police investigation reports and articles. After Dick and Perry were caught and sentenced, he even interviewed their handlers in prison. The result of all this painstaking work was what was known as the original nonfiction novel - In True Blood.
What strikes you as a reader is the superbly vivid and lively description of Holcomb that Capote gives you, considering the fact that none of this is the authors imagination as in a work of fiction. The accounts of every resident of the town, folksy tidbits from the lives of the Clutter family, accounts of prisoners, and every development in the case confirms to reality.
The novel also was amazing in capturing the mind of the criminal, what drives them to the extreme step of taking a life. Capote devotes extensive time defining the characters of Dick and Perry, as well as the human side of them. He describes Perry as being the more sensitive and guilt-ridden of the two on account of the murders. Unlike Dick, his turning reprobate was more a victim of circumstances and upbringing. He shared a complex relation with his family. He describes the murders as follows:
'Just remember: I only knew the Clutters maybe an hour. If I'd really known them, I guess I'd feel different. I don't think I could live with myself. But the way it was, it was like picking targets in a shooting gallery.'

In his own words, he  defined himself as follows in a diary he kept:
'My acquaintances are many, my friends are few; those who really know me fewer still.'

Overall, Truman Capote is a master of describing different emotions: He presents some beautiful images of rural Kansas, they can be identified with by anyone who has grown up in small towns; heartbreak suffered by Dick and Perry's families; and aboveall the horror of the murders.
Some trivia:
  • Truman Capote's assistant for this book was Harper Lee, the Pulitzer prize winning author of 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'
  • The novel bought some renown to the Clutter family home and the town of Holcomb. People would visit the town just to experience the Holcomb that Capote had so vividly defined. Here is a link to some pictures I found from the time of the investigation to the present. In Cold Blood: A Legacy, in Photos


Smita said...

wow!!! this looks like an awesome read!!! At the expense of sounding clod blooded, I like reading books based on the story like you have narrated. I used to read all such stories from Readers Digest...

Will surely look out for this one, a very good review buddy :-)

ZB said...

GREAT. I always have this awe for Capote, though i havent read any of his books. His personality cult is enough to attract.

I ask for Breakfast at tiffany's and bookstore guys dont even seem to have heard the name. I have searched all over, but couldnt find the book.

Thanks for this review. Sounds interesting. :)

Rahul Anand said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rahul Anand said...

@Smita: Thank you. This book along with Breakfast at Tiffany's are considered among the best works of Truman Capote.

Your mention of Readers Digest reminds me, the killer Hickok in the novel also used to read Readers Digest's suspense stories while in prison :)

@ZB: You are right, Capote's books are of a cult; dealing with philosophy at times to the psycological aspects of the criminal mind. Breakfast at Tiffany's is something I would like to read too. Thanks!

HaRy!! said...

hmm thats some read! have to check it in the stores now:).. thanks for the review!and cya around!

H a R y

Rahul Anand said...

@Hary: Thanks for stopping by.TC

Tarun Goel said...

A good read it will be.
Never heard about the fellow but this book has triggered my interested.

Rahul Anand said...

@Tarun: This was the first time I was reading Capote too, he had worked on the book real passiontely. Check out his 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' too if you get a chance. Thanks for reading!

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

You are doing a great job by informing us about books like this. This review touches the essential points of the story and how it was written. I am sure your readers will seriously try to lay their hands on a copy of the book.

I read ICB almost at one stretch over the last two days and I agree with you, this is a wonderfully crafted novel. Interestingly, it is a whodunit where the readers know right at the beginning who did it. Yet, one cannot put the book down, such is the mastery of the story teller.

Have recently seen the movie titled "Truman Capote" which deals with the story of Capote writing ICB. I would recommend it strongly to the admirers of Capote.

Rahul Anand said...

Thanks a lot for the words of appreciation Mr. Santanu. I guess you might be one of the first to have read a book based on my recommendation. Wow, I am not doing bad after all :)

I would like to watch the movie 'Truman Capote' as well. Thanks once again.

Smita said...

long time no see?