Autumns reward western Kansas for the evils that the remaining seasons impose: winter's rough Colorado winds and hip-high, sheep-slaughtering snows; the slushes and strange land fogs of spring; and summer, when even crows seek the puny shade, and the tawny infinitude of wheatstalks bristle, blaze. At last, after September, another weather arrives, an Indian summer that occasionally endures until Christmas.
On November 15, 1959, four members of the Clutter family (husband, wife, two teenage children) were methodically murdered at their home in Holcomb, Kansas. The community was shocked; the Clutters were a prominent and well-respected family in the community, and there were very few clues left at the crime scene. This book, Capote's account of the murders and the subsequent hunt for the perpetrators, is a little like a car wreck: it's horrific and tragic, yet hard not to look.
Late in the book, Capote wrote:
The Garden City Telegram, on the eve's of the trial start, printed the following editorial: "Some may think the eyes of the entire nation are on Garden City during this sensational murder trial. But they are not. Even a hundred miles west of here in Colorado few persons are even acquainted with the case—other than just remembering some members of a prominent family were slain."
Before the murder, many people even in Kansas had never heard of Holcomb, but the case was so sensational that news spread to the surrounding areas. However, it was Capote's own book that probably alerted the rest of the nation after the fact. And, of course, thanks to two movies released in the past couple years ("Capote" and "Infamous"), even non-readers have now heard the tale, and may be encouraged to read the book. My own incentive for reading the book was our recent move to southwestern Kansas, about 80 miles from Holcomb.
Capote keeps the details of the murder itself secret for quite some time. Instead, he introduces both the victims and the murderers first and then jumps to the discovery of the bodies and the search for suspects. He follows the murderers, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, as they travel all over the U.S. and even down to Mexico. It isn't until they are caught that we really get a picture of what happened that night, and the true motivations behind the crime. The way Capote tells the story, we feel both disgust and pity for Hickock and Smith: clearly they were responsible, but at times they don't seem to comprehend the magnitude of what they did.
The writing itself is engaging and Capote manages to take a lot of recollections, testimonies and facts, and put them together into a compelling book. Toward the end there are some descriptions of fellow Death Row inmates that seems less relevant and a bit out of place, but for the most part the book flows from one section to the next. A lot of the book is written as told by various witnesses (or the murderers themselves), and I'm curious how all the testimonies were recorded. Throughout the book, despite the fact that Capote was certainly present at times, we are given the perspective of an omniscient narrator.
In Cold Blood is an astonishing book and once I started it I didn't want to stop until I was finished. But it's also not an easy story to stomach, and I don't find myself especially drawn to read more "true crime"-type stories, either.
Fed to jonathan's brain | February 14, 2008 | Comments (0)