This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
Capote’s In Cold Blood reconstructs the timeline of the true story of the senseless murders of four members of the Clutter family on a night in November 1959. In a style that has been called a “nonfiction novel,” Capote sets the stage by describing the small Kansas town in which the Clutters lived and their personalities and reputations in that town. He captures the shock of the victims’ neighbors and friends when the four bodies are discovered the following morning. In a way that was likely groundbreaking when the book was published in 1965, Capote delves deeply into the personal stories of the killers themselves, crafting a robust narrative surrounding the entire incident. As I was reading this (and listening to the audio book at times), I felt alternately horrified, saddened, frightened, entranced, sorrowful, vindicated, and other things that I’m sure I’m forgetting. I’m still processing everything I just read, but one thing I’ve been thinking of lately is how the book reminded me that there are some people (whether or not it’s their own “fault”) who are just not good people, which is a difficult reminder for someone who wants to see the good in the world. However, I still was captivated by this book, maybe in the same way that we look at the site of an accident as we drive by, trying to catch a glimpse of something that if we’re honest with ourselves we don’t really want to see. Capote’s writing is clear and descriptive, providing the reader with a chilling sense of presence in the story, and our desire to know “Why?” propels us forward through passages we might want to skip. Overall, In Cold Blood was a great pick for the 50nifty list, as the reader really gets a sense, in the midst of tragedy, of what small-town life is like in Kansas in the 1950s and 60s.
(Side note: the excellent 2005 film Capote was based on Truman Capote’s research for and writing of this book. If you don’t want to spend so many hours reading, I’d recommend watching the film, which is equally as chilling and intimate-in some parts perhaps more so.)