In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was debating for the longest time whether to give this four or five stars. The book itself I would say four stars, but when you include the story behind it, with the two films I've seen, the story as a whole adds up to five. As I was unable to separate the two in my mind, it gets five.
Capote writes of a rural area and an era long gone and hard to imagine in some respects.
"Kenyon was eleven when his father allowed him to buy, with money he had earned raising sheep, an old truck..."
"We were both twelve. My dad lent me the car, and I drove her to the dance."
"Which to his partner seemed a ploy so feeble that it couldn't possibly 'fool a day-old ni**er'".
I went into this with a little trepidation as somewhere in my recent past and with age, my interest shifted from caring about the criminals and learning what made them do what they did, to frankly seeing them caught and punished. I found myself shocked reading this that I actually supported the death penalty in this case. These people shot a family of four in the face for $40, and they continued to show little subsequent regard for human life afterward.
"They were waiting for some solitary traveler in a decent car and with money in his billfold—a stranger to rob, strangle, discard on the desert."
I appreciated Capote's humour and gay sensibility, as shown in this passage:
"But the queens on ship wouldn't leave me alone. A sixteen-year-old kid, and a small kid. I could handle myself, sure. But a lot of queens aren't effeminate, you know. Hell, I've known queens could toss a pool table out the window. And the piano after it."
Capote includes quotes from one of the boys' notebook:
"If called upon to make a speech: 'I can't remember what I was going to say for the life of me—I don't think that ever before in my life have so many people been so directly responsible for my being so very, very glad. It's a wonderful moment and a rare one and I'm certainly indebted. Thank you!"
Another example of Capote's humour:
"Well, I'm just a dizzy blonde. I believe you. But I wouldn't tell that tale to any brunettes."
It's these candid moments that really give the book it's power. Capote is also a master of voices, recounting many conversations and still giving the people their own unique voice. You always know who's talking, whether they say their name or not. A rare gift for writers. One of the reasons I considered taking a star off though was when I started the book 10 years ago, I remember being awed at the language and phraseology, but I've read many books since and was less awed now.
I think too I've already formulated some idea of what makes these kind of people tick, and it was reinforced in some parts. I think violence is a way of taking control when a man feels emasculated, as shown in:
"All that belonged to him, Dick, but he would never have it. Why should that sonofabitch have everything, while he had nothing? Why should that 'big-shot bastard' have all the luck? With a knife in his hand, he, Dick, had power. Big-shot bastards like that had better be careful or he might 'open them up and let a little of their luck spill on the floor.'"
Certain passages did bring some sympathy for the killers, after all, no one was a winner in this case. One of the boys' sister talks easily about forgiving and forgetting, but a friend says:
"It is easy to ignore the rain if you have a raincoat. But how would she feel if she were compelled to hustle her living on the streets? Would she still be all-forgiving about the people in her past?"
Still in many ways this seems distant enough to be a tale of the old west, the characters have a callousness that leaves them in many ways unrelatable.
Capote immersed himself so deeply in the events he became part of the story. But by keeping himself so determinedly out of the story, referring to himself in the third-person as an anonymous reporter, I don't know that he did the book a favour. Modern times favour more emotional involvement and created a slight disconnect with me and this book.
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