Book Review: In Cold Blood

I’m not entirely sure what to think of this book. The author, Truman Capote, supposedly set out to create a new genre of books called “literary journalism” by combining factual research and reporting with artistic presentation. In a way, it makes the book about the senseless murder of a Kansas family a lot more uncomfortable to read, because you assume that everything really did happen and that the characters weren’t really characters at all, but real people. And if it really happened to them it could really happen to you. (This kind of fear is, in fact, one of the recurring themes of the book.)

But as an artistic piece the book seems pretty long, plodding, and repetitive. I was pretty ready for it to be over long before it was, and several parts that described the two murderers’ escapades just seemed to go on and on. But at the same time, I do appreciate the obvious artistry that went into creating this, and the way that Capote juxtaposes images and provides depth to the characters raises the book above —way above— the status of simple pulp mystery or suspense novels. In the book’s opening sequences, for example, the author flips back and forth between the victims, the all American Clutter family, to the murderers. The result is a kind of montage of competing themes –the idealistic against the warped— that resonates with a lot of people disillusioned with the American dream.

By the end of the book we also come a lot closer to understanding the two killers, if not condoning or forgiving them. The interplay between the two was interesting to watch for the most part, and Capote thankfully didn’t feel the need to spell everything out for us. Instead, he just showed what was going on and let us figure it out for ourselves. It’s good stuff, even if he does repeat himself and drone a bit on the occasional tangent.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: In Cold Blood

  1. Have you seen the movie about Capote when he was writing this book? Phillip Seymour Hoffman did a fabulous job as Capote. He illustrates how Capote got the story from the killers and what happened once he got what he needed to write the book.
    Great movie!

  2. No, not yet but it’s in my Netflix queue. Another fun fact: Capote did the research for the book with the help of his good friend, Harper Lee. You may remember her as the author of the thoroughly excellent To Kill a Mockingbird. There’s even some debate about how much, if any, of that novel was written by Capote instead of Lee.

  3. Hmmm, interesting about To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee is prominent in the movie as well. I believe there is also another movie about the events around this book with Sandra Bullock.

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