Thursday, April 8, 2010

In Cold Blood

Day 58 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Tony, aged 58, is reading In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, for the first time.

He is reading it because he recently saw the film Capote. (I think that's the film he was referring to--maybe he saw the film In Cold Blood somewhere. I will follow up on this. In Cold Blood was filmed at the site of the murder, and I remember it as chilling indeed.)

Since today I have to be off and about early and for much of the day, I will pose a question, write a little here, and get back to you.

What I want to know is this: When did you first read In Cold Blood, if you've read it, and did it scare you?

And, of course, why did you read it? (And why and how did it scare you?)

All the accounts, and the film Capote, inform us that Truman Capote wrote the book because he saw a brief news account of a family murdered in their home in Kansas. Since there was no robbery and no clear motive, the article suggested "a pychopathic killer," a phrase attributed to the sheriff. Capote went to Holcomb, Kansas to learn more about the event, the town, the people there, and, of course, the murderers. The novelist Harper Lee went to Kansas with him and helped him communicate with the townspeople and gather the necessary information.

He wrote his famous "non-fiction novel," blending memory, imagination, and "participant observer" reporting. He and it became a sensation.

I was 10 when the film In Cold Blood came out, so I'm pretty sure I didn't see it then. I think I saw it several years later, on television.

But I remember reading the book in my teens when living with my family in a farmhouse out in the country, surrounded by corn and bean fields. I tried not to read it at night, instead taking it out in the yard, in the sunshine, the wind blowing, my dog nearby.


Douglas Robillard said...

That copy in the picture is the spitting image of the one I picked up at a yard sale for a quarter when I was 13! Hardcover, dust jacket--it might have been a book club edition but I don't recall. Long gone, unfortunately. I read it shortly after I got it, so I was probably still in eighth grade.

I first heard about the book one day when my mother and aunts discussed it in the car, probably soon after its publication. Of course, that was years before I read it. I don't recall what they said, but the evocative title stuck with me.

What disturbed me about the book was the depiction of real-life violence in the murder of the Clutter family. Up until that point, I'd only read fictional descriptions of violence, some of them quite fanciful: John Carter of Mars effortlessly disembowels a hundred foes as he rescues Deja Thoris, say.

IN COLD BLOOD was a whole different matter. It's been many years and I don't have a copy handy so I can check,(and memory doesn't always serve)but didn't the killers cut the father's throat first? Then, when his struggles proved to be unbearable,they dispatched him with the shotgun.

Like the killers, I found that scene unbearable! Emotional reactions? Fear, certainly, but not only fear; terror and pity (shades of Aristotle) at the dying man's plight; horror at the gruesomeness of his struggles and death; dread at what's coming next. How will Dick and Perry finish off the rest of the family?

Thank you for a thought-provoking posting.
Another Capote piece from the same time period that put me through emotional changes was "A Christmas Memory," which was dramatized on TV. I'd read IN COLD BLOOD by then, but "A Christmas Memory" tore me up in a completely different and unexpected way. I recall watching it with my parents and getting all teary and choked up. When I read the story, the same thing happened.

Kathleen said...

This past Christmas season in the store a woman called and then came in to examine copies of "A Christmas Memory" and "The Thanksgiving" visitor because she had such fond memories of them and wanted to give them as gifts. We had various versions in good condition, hardback in slipcases, etc., and it was good to handle them and made me want to read them again and see the filmed versions with Geraldine Page.

In one of those coincidences, I am soon to see a local production of The Trip to Bountiful, by Horton Foote. Geraldine Page was in the filmed version of that!

In another coincidence, as I am immersed in The Scarlet Letter, I notice that your marvelous sensitivity, Doug, is similar to that of Hester Prynne, who feels everything, and who blushes as much in her own shame as on behalf of others, who should be feeling shame! Pity or fear, you feel it intensely. I'm the same way...though tempered now by age.

Kathleen said...

Hmm, don't know what happened there with "The Thanksgiving Visitor." I'll attribute that to age, as well.

SarahJane said...

I read In Cold Blood in the late 80s and yes, it was terrifying.
I know it's terribly unpopular, and I consider myself a liberal, but the only thing I have against the death penalty is that "justice" often brings down the wrong guy. In the case of people who without doubt and by their own admission have committed atrocious crimes, I'm all for it.
Anyway, a few years after reading the book I went on to live briefly in Kansas where there's lonely house after lonely house and it was easy to imagine such a crime going on unnoticed.
The book was interesting to me as a milestone of New Journalism and the other things I read by Capote I didn't like half as much.