I got the recommendation for In Cold Blood from The Western Canon. It comes under the fourth heading, called “The Chaotic Age.” Bloom said –
“I am not as confident about this list as the first three. Cultural prophecy is always a mug’s game. Not all of the works here can prove to be canonical; literary overpopulation is a hazard to many among them. But I have neither excluded nor included on the basis of cultural politics of any kind.”
(Bloom, p. 548)
He follows this quotation with some 900 “modern” titles that stray from his more “classical literature” selections.
I have to say – I’m glad Bloom gave In Cold Blood (&, I guess, all the other titles) a chance, despite his reservations about its possible placement in the world of “literary overpopulation.”
AVAST, MATEY! HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
Let me just say – the notes I jotted down about this book for my review contained a lot of exclamation points.
It. Was. So. Good!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Capote shares the story of how the murder the Clutter family – father, mother, & two under-aged children – rocked the small town of Holcomb, Kansas.
Herbert Clutter was a wealthy farmer who had worked for everything he had, including holding up his family while his wife, Bonnie, struggled with what’s clearly depression.
He is a loving, but strict, employer & father. He tells his daughter, Nancy, she must break up with her boyfriend, Bobby Rupp, because Bobby isn’t the same religion as the family. However, the night of the murders, Bobby is welcome in the house to watch TV with Nancy & Herb at the Clutter’s house.
Capote introduces the rest of the family in that vein. He describes their faults & qualities with a generous hand on the positive side.
He didn’t just stop at making me feel sympathetic for the protagonists, though. He describes Richard “Dick” Hickock & Perry Smith, who murdered the Cutter family, in such a way that I found them very sympathetic – especially Perry Smith.
Capote reveals that both young men, who met in prison, had traumatic incidents that could have influenced their actions that fateful night. The judge wouldn’t allow the lawyers to bring up these issues because of the “M’Naghten rule.” This said the jury could only hear about evidence if it showed the defendants knew “right from wrong at the time of the crime.”
Maybe that’s why the author shined this sympathetic light on Hickock & Smith – because it wasn’t allowed during the trial?
Regardless, In Cold Blood was never dull. It was 384 pages of “I can’t wait to find out what’s next!”
It took more than 90 pages for Capote to describe the murder. He highlighted the small-town feel of Holcomb to heighten how abnormal & devastating the quadruple murder was to its people.
I didn’t find out why Hickock & Smith killed the Clutter family until the book’s 3rd section. It didn’t matter, to be honest.
Capote used such compelling language, moving between the victims & people of Holcomb & the exploits of the murderers seamlessly, that I didn’t realize how long it took to get to the “point.”
The mixture of omniscient viewpoints showing the Cutter family & Hickock & Smith, I think, increased the sympathy for all portrayed.
While getting my thoughts together to write this review, I (of course) Googled In Cold Blood. That lead me to read (on Wikipedia; take the info with a grain of salt!) that Capote did his in-person research & interviews with his close, childhood friend, Nelle Harper Lee.
You may have heard of her. She later dropped “Nelle” when she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.
Also, the article said many critics questioned the quotations & interviews Capote included in the book.
This made me think back to what I’d read – it really did sound like the author had access to all the information, was in the room for every event, & asked the right people the right questions. It was almost too perfect.
So, whether Wikipedia has any validity to its articles (or this one specifically), I think the critics quoted have valid points.
5 out of 5 stars! In Cold Blood is a delightful mix of embellishment & true events. Truman Capote published the book in 1966, when the world wasn’t as used to “based on a true story” media as we are now.
We’re now more familiar with the tiny nugget of real events so covered in made up details it’s hardly recognizable. In that way, it may have been ahead of its time. It also allowed it to hold up after so long.