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[390] In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

” I’d been too dazed, too numb, to feel the full viciousness of it. The suffering. The horror. They were dead. A whole family. Gentle, kindly people, people I know—murdered. You had to believe it, because it was really true. ” (I, 66)

In Cold Blood is a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences that Truman Capote spent five years on unraveling, following, and writing. Until the tragedy, few Americans had ever heard of Holcomb, the lonely hamlet in western Kansas where the murders took place on November 15, 1959.

But who hated the Clutters? I never heard a word against them; they were about as popular as a family can be, and if something like this would happen to them, then who’s safe, I ask you? (I, 70)

Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were in prison when they heard from another inmate, Floyd Wells, who had worked at Clutter’s farm for a year some 10 years ago, that Herb Clutter is very wealthy and he has money stashed in a safe in his house. After being released from Kansas State Penitentiary, the duo immediately drew up plans to obtain the money. Hickock wrote a series of hot checks to derive money for tools. With a knife, a 12-gauge shotgun and a length of cord, they robbed the Clutters, ransacking the house getting no more than fifty dollars, a pair of binoculars, and a transistor radio. Assuming the soft-spoken Herb Clutter lied about the hidden cash, they executed in cold blood Herb, his wife, and their son and daughter—bound, gagged, and shot. What appeared, then unbeknownst to investigators, to be murder with no apparent motive, did have a very long-shot but simple one: robbery.

If I hadn’t [done a three-to-five), then I never would have met Dick, and maybe Mr. Clutter wouldn’t be in his grave. But there it is. I come to meet Dick. (III, 161)

And it wasn’t because of anything the Clutters did. They never hurt me. Like other people. Like people have all my life. Maybe it’s just that the Clutters were the ones who had to pay for it. (IV, 290)

What follows is an account of the investigation of the crime, the town’s overwhelming reaction, the rumors flying, the funeral, a fluke almost as gratuitous as the killing itself, how the police captured the murderers, and the trial.

. . . and though she was usually alone in her opinions, this time she was not without company, for the majority of Holcomb’s population, having lived for seven weeks amid unwholesome rumors, general mistrust, and suspicion, appeared to feel disappointed at being told that the murderer was not someone among themselves. (III, 231)

In Cold Blood is an exceptional piece of literature that captures America in time for one of its most notorious incident. It stands out among many a crime fiction and true crime documentary with its reality, that which if heard out patiently (Truman Capote committed to his memory the event and its dialogues thoroughly), can orchestrate its own full range. That he spent a substantial portion of his life researching about the crime and its aftermath allows him to write it as a novel. He presents the facts in a manner so emotionally detached that they declare a reality that transcends reality. Everyone involved—victims, murderers, investigators, and outsiders—come alive in the words. The Clutters were especially poignant victims whose lives denied possibility of evil until they knew the terror at their door. The killers, one perfectly sane and the other schizophrenic, are both social dropouts filled with nausea, world-weariness, and loneliness. The peaceful congregation of neighbors and friends suddenly had to endure the disquieting experience of distrusting one another. The squadron of psychiatrists, poised on determining whether the duo was in full contact with reality and the consequences of their actions, unveiled mental abnormality and darkness of their subjects.

This is a deeply haunting and disturbing book. I don’t know which is more chilling: the atrocious crime itself, or Capote’s chronicle of the crime with surgically precise writing. The sound of it, that is, the voice of the narrative, as corroborated by the audio, creates the illusion of a soundtrack. The book not only manages a moral judgment without Capote’s appearance, it also restores dignity to the event.

343 pp. Trade Paperback/Audio. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

In Cold Blood Audio

In Cold Blood is my first audiobook. I’m reading the book and listening to audio at the same time. The audio especially makes my blood run cold as Scott brick, the narrator, keeps up with Capote’s storytelling every step of the way. I listened to the first CD during the drive on a backroad to a wedding, where I encountered hardly any traffic and all that could be heard were rustling of trees (I know it sounds morbid), but the emotionally detached voice, along with Capote’s writing that really brings crime out of the quiet rural scene and enlivens the chilling reality that cold-blooded crime can happen anywhere. Brick’s narrative moves fluidly between different regional and foreign accents, complete with subtle inflections and tone changes. The listening experience is very gripping. I’m hoping to finish reading and listening tomorrow.

Do you think audio is better for one genre over another? What are your favorite audio books?

[158] Capote in Kansas – Kim Powers

3rd Stop of the TLC Book Tour
Publisher: Perseus Publishing
254 pp
Kim Powers website
Paperback October 4, 2008

“She still believed what some nearly extinct tribal cultures had professed when they first saw cameras: that every photograph taken of you robbed you of a bit of your soul. And these pictures, inside and outside of the box, had taken away a large portion of hers.” [61]

Capote in Kansas draws on scattered events of truman Capote and Harper Lee’s childhood in Monroeville, Alabama and their reunion over two decades later in Kansas. Almost twenty five years after they conducted research on the murder of the Clutters, the best friends stop talking to each other. The novel, a fantasy that combines documented events and Powers’ imagination, seeks to answer the question of what might have caused the rift in their friendship.

It begins with Capote’s death-bed confession in the form of a phone call to Lee in the middle of the night. It’s a S.O.S. call to his friend that the ghosts of the Clutters come back to seek revenge for the human rights they lost when the murder case piqued him to write In Cold Blood. As much as the book claims to be a ghost story, this is about all the actions of the spirits. The ghosts, be they real apparitions or hallucinations, do not actually advance the plot of the novel. They revive memories of the past that the writers have banished from their thoughts.

As much of a mess Truman Capote has become—consumed by drugs and alcohol—he manages to send Harper Lee these creepy messages in cardboard boxes that demonstrate not only effort of artistry but also the burning desire to get squared. The series of sinister packages with occasional gruesome contents along with the ghost talk, rather than spooking her, lead her to question Capote’s intentions. I would go as far to assert that, being entrapped by painful memories of their meeting in Kansas, they have estranged one another. They are themselves the ghosts who linger on and have unfinished business with one another. The strength of the novel is how Powers adroitly nails the best of Harper Lee’s bitterness and insecurities because of Capote’s sabotage of her novel. What Truman had sone to her, out of his self-inflated ego, made her doubt if she actually wrote “The Book” herself.

ow could two people, once best friends, once soul mates, be so different: Nelle had published one book, and then deliberately faded into woodwork; Truman didn’t even wait for one to come out, and had already started planning the guest list.” [205]

Lee’s insecurity is also underpinned by her sister’s sneaking around the attic to look for proof of authorship. Why didn’t she write another book for twenty five years? The doubt that has hovered on the edge of her sister’s consciousness is exactly what Lee communicates to her dead brother in the letters. So much that the Capote in Kansas professes to be a ghost story, it’s more of a tale about friendship, regret, reconciliation and coming to terms to self. It doesn’t add to what we already know of the writers; but the well-written book, full of imaginary scenes, is still worthy of perusal.

About the author: Kim Powers is an Emmy- and Peabody-winning writer who’s worked at both ABC’s Good Morning America and Primetime. He lives in New York City. He can be reached at his website: kimpowersbooks.com

Official TLC Book Tours blog.
Also Hosting Kim Powers:

Wednesday, Oct. 1st: Bookgirl’s Nightstand
Friday, Oct. 3rd: Book Room Reviews
Monday, Oct. 6th: A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook
Wednesday, Oct. 8th: Tripping Toward Lucidity
Friday, Oct. 10th: book-a-rama
Monday, Oct. 13th: Ready When You Are, C.B.
Wednesday, Oct. 15th: Bibliolatry
Friday, Oct. 17th: Books and Movies
Monday, Oct. 20th: Booking Mama
Wednesday, Oct. 22nd: Diary of an Eccentric
Thursday, Oct. 23rd: Maw Books
Friday, Oct. 24th: Book Club Classics
Monday, Oct. 27th: Books and Cooks
Tuesday, Oct. 28th: Devourer of Books
Wednesday, Oct. 29th: Literate Housewife