Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Classic of the Month: In Cold Blood

It's time to start a new feature here at The Writer's Notebook: Classic of the Month! The basic idea is that these are books you either have been forced to read or really should read, reviewed solely on their own merits. The goal is to get a better idea of which classics are really... well, classic, that deserve to endure from generation to generation and be read by every self-respecting member of the human race.

So, I'm going to start things off on an unexpected note. That's right, no Shakespeare here, not yet. Instead, it's time to take a look at the enigmatic Truman Capote's only great work: In Cold Blood. Capote envisioned this work as a "nonfiction novel," or objective facts told in the style of gripping fiction. And it really does work.

The date is November 15, 1959. In a small town in Kansas, the Clutter family has always stood as the paradigm of the American Dream. They are religious, stable, and honest folk, with beautiful children who are all too quickly growing up. But when the next morning dawns, all four of them are found savagely murdered in their house. In Cold Blood is the account of the events preceding and following this act of brutality, up until the execution of the guilty parties.

Capote spent half a decade researching In Cold Blood, and it shows. There are loads of interviews, tirelessly reproduced and tastefully integrated into prose that manages to flow without becoming subjective. Capote said that he accumulated enough research to fill a small room, and there's a part of me that would like to see some of the "outtakes."

Objectivity is another interesting part of this book. Capote never reveals his thoughts on an idea, with our only clues to subjectivity being what facts he leaves out. The events are told at a good pace, and I can't ever recall another nonfiction book that has held my attention so solidly.

Capote also takes great care in fleshing out the killers. He makes them appear as real on the page as they undoubtedly were in person, making you halfway sympathize with them (before you remembered that because of them, a family is gone). By the end of the book, you have an understanding of them that you never would have expected.

So Truman Capote knew what his aim was with In Cold Blood, and he achieved it, making a tale suspenseful even when everyone reading it has known the outcome for fifty years. In my book (no pun intended) this makes it a classic deserving of its title. Outstanding.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: The Bride Collector.


logankstewart said...

This book has been one I've intended to read for a long time. My mom read it years ago and liked it well enough to get into a whole genre of crime non-fiction (or maybe it ended her criminal reading streak, I can't remember). Anyway, great review.

The Writer said...

Definitely read this one as soon as you can get your hands on it. It's truly one of a kind in it's execution (no pun intended initially).