I’ve been so caught up in my new life of retiree that I found I’ve stopped reading. Not having a daily bus rider in which to get lost in books I had to find a new method of carving out time to read. “In Cold Blood” re-energized my passion for reading.”
In November 1959 two ex cons, hoping for a big score, murdered the Clutter family (parents Herbert and Bonnie, and the kids Nancy and Kenyon) in the small town of Holcomb in western Kansas. “Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans-in fact, few Kansans – had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down on the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there.” (p 4)
This book covers the last day of the Clutter family, through the murder, the chase, and the execution of the killers: Richard Hickock “‘a small-time chiseler who got out of his depth, empty and worthless.'”(p392) and Perry Smith who exuded “the aura of an exiled animal, a creature walking wounded” (p 393).
But most everyone knows that most basic outline of the story. Where Truman Capote shines is the description of people and events. He writes of the Clutters as clearly as if he they were characters in a novel. In the same way we clearly see Perry and Dick’s lives from childhood through death.
Capote’s brilliant writing shines throughout the book. When describing the trial he describes the defendant Perry Smith as the only person in court not dressed properly: “Only Perry Smith, who owned neither jacket nor tie, seemed sartorially misplaced. Wearing an necked shirt…and blue jeans rolled up at the cuffs, he looked as lonely and inappropriate as a seagull in a wheatfield.” (p313)
I read this as a kid (maybe my parents’ greatest gift was the free rein they gave my reading topics) probably drawn by the gruesomeness; but I found upon reading it 50 years later that it is a top notch chronicle of people, places, and events. This book is riveting; I read it in less than three days. Nothing could keep me from it except bleary eyes at midnight.
This has been my third book in a row of mid-20th century writings (“The Boys of Summer” and “The Naked and the Dead” being the others). I’m continuing to explore this era by reading a group of personally collated southern Short Stories that I hope to report on later this summer.
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