In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote Reading this book in 2009, 50 years after the fact of this horrific killing of the Clutter family, has left me to ponder over a few troubling enigmas. The first being the oddity of why something that happened so long ago still captures our fascination, as if it carries this aura of mystery that wouldn't be there if we were to hear of the same crime today. Is it merely that it happened in an era we've come to think of as 'innocent', a time when people in a small town didn't lock their doors and everyone knew everyone? Is it the crime itself, the senselessness of it, the seemingly randomness of the victims? Or is it the fascination of the killers, in the same way people are still fascinated by Charles Manson. What makes them tick? What made them kill these innocent strangers, in their own home, in cold blood. Or is it because of Truman Capote and the way he brought this story to everyone's living room in a time before cable news, before Nancy Grace?

Capote, in a style he called the non-fiction novel, related this story as if you were reading a murder suspense novel. I had to keep reminding myself this really happened. He told of the Clutter family, their lives and personalities, and of course you are heartbroken reading about them, knowing the 2 young Clutters, Nancy and Kenyon, would never finish high school or get married or have children of their own. Their parents had just become first-time grandparents, but would not have the chance to watch their grandson grow or experience the joy of a houseful of grandchildren. Tragic.

Then Capote tells us of the killers. And we get to know them as people. People with pasts. People with families. They were somebody's son, somebody's brother. Another aspect of the book that leaves me with unanswerable questions. The one guy, Hickock, I thought was just plain mean and there's not a doubt in my mind he knew right from wrong. But the other, Smith, I couldn't help but feel sorry for. Not to the extent that I thought he didn't deserve to die for what he did, but I began to think of his life as yet another tragic aspect of the story. He had aspirations for his life, yet after a childhood of neglect and abuse, and never having anyone in his life who seemed to care about him or support his dreams, it's easy to see the path he chose. So why is it that some people who come from abused homes are able to overcome it, even flourish because of what they've had to endure, while others flounder in it, stuck in a cycle of self-loathing? Is it in their genetic make-up? Capote alluded to the fact that Smith had schizophrenic tendencies, so did he know right from wrong when he pulled the trigger? And what if he didn't? Does that mean he shouldn't have been hanged?

And that is the brilliance of Capote's writing. He doesn't answer these questions for you. He presents you with the facts, all of the facts, but not in a cold, journalistic way. Rather as if he was taking you on a journey through Holcomb, Kansas and you could see the Clutter farm, the road leading up to it, Nancy's horse, Kenyon's radio. He makes it real for you, so you can come up with your own questions, your own judgments, and your own conclusions.