Thursday, October 06, 2011

In Cold Blood, a Review

Holcomb, Kan., Nov. 15 [1959] (UPI) -- A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home. They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged ... There were no signs of a struggle, and nothing had been stolen. The telephone lines had been cut.—The New York Times

I'm hesitant to review Truman Capote's seminal true-crime novel In Cold Blood.  How does one begin to review non-fiction, let alone true stories?  I see the vanity of my opinion on the situation and want to run screaming the other way.  But that curious part of me, that part buried in a metal box in the middle of my heart, twitches and pines for things it ought not.  As I've mused time and again, I am inexplicably drawn to these things.

In Cold Blood is the account of the Clutter murders.  The book is broken up into four sections and told through numerous Points-of-View.  We watch Herb Clutter, kindly and genteel, make his way around Holcomb, conducting business for his family farm.  We see sixteen-year-old Nancy Clutter's budding relationship with her high school boyfriend.  We struggle with Mrs. Clutter and her bouts of depression, and son Kenyon (15) and his aspirations.  We're told about the small town of Holcomb and its caring citizens, where Church is society, the diner is always busy, and idle talk spreads fast.

Beyond this, and the more intriguing parts of the book, we travel with Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, two parolees who ultimately murder four innocent people for the hope of a chance that Mr. Clutter kept a safe in his house, filled with at least ten thousand dollars.  We learn of each man's upbringing, of their choices that landed them in jail, of their plans and goals, of their bitterness, and of their deaths.  It's easy to pity them, to wish things better for them, but from the onset we're aware of their deed and their execution.

Capote is brilliant in building dread and suspense.  Scenes change quickly, and since this is a journalistic approach, we see various sides of people/events.  There is much to be said about the crime, the victims, the criminals, and the aftermath, and Capote adroitly handles it all.

Strikingly, the brutality of the crime (as well as the executions of Hickock, Smith, and some other men on Death Row) is done in a matter-of-fact way.  Capote presents the scene with little fanfare, and this minimalism is chilling.  The Reader is left as dazed and confused as the townsfolk of Holcomb were, and one can't help but press on to discover the true motive.  Why? continually comes to mind.  Emotion is poured into the book, though often it is reserved and professional, and this dichotomy makes for an oddly disturbing read.

In Cold Blood has been on my TBR shelf for a very long time, and I'm glad it's finally gone.  I wanted to read it for RIP this year because this stuff is what truly defines horror to me.  It's real and 100% possible, not like some phantom killer or haunted house.  I tend to think that we've created ghost stories as an escape, preferring the supernatural to the perfectly natural.  Because there are killers out there.  People that torture, kidnap, rape, murder, assault, harass, antagonize.  And who knows when someone could simply snap and massacre a shopping center or bookstore?  It's scary enough to make me want to take my family and live in a bomb shelter, buried and out of sight, safe and secure.  And when my mind starts roaming these uncomfortable corridors, I have to ask myself one question: what if you're the one to snap?

And it stops me.  Cold.  Because I'm human, just like Dick Hickock, Perry Smith, Herb Clutter, and everybody else.  I'm no killer, but I could be.  We all could be.  We all have the potential.  What keeps us held back is our self-control, or maybe our fear of prison and death.  What keeps me back is my love for people, my love of life, made possible by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Without Him, I think I'd be some kind of messed up person, but I trust Him and His word that He'll never leave me or forsake me.  But really, when you think about it, if you stand two people side-by-side, one a killer, the other not, and put them in identical clothes and ask someone to pick out the killer, there's no difference.  Both are just simply people, and that's the most terrifying thing out there.  We don't really know anyone...

[Note: After re-reading this, I realize how disturbing this post is, and I've considered simply deleting and starting over.  But, as a purist, I find that path treacherous.  Instead, I'll echo my previous line.  I am enslaved to God and committed until I die, therefore I do not keep myself restrained from going out and murdering somebody.  Instead, I deal with the more insidious sins, things like when Jesus said that being angry with your brother was basically wanting to kill him, and inward lust was the same thing as adultery, and pride--oh how I loathe thee!--that snakes its way into every aspect of my life.  Yes, friends, I am perfectly sane (to my knowledge).  Just trying to make my way in the world the same as the rest of ya.]


contemplatrix said...

this is a great review Logan; I think your reflection took a natural course; considering 'how' and 'why' not in the heat of emotion, but with a cooler head. It is chilling to think about what has been undeniably proven possible.


Sarah said...

I have this book on my to be read pile and I really appreciated your review. It is a chilling thought that a neighbor or even yourself can suddenly snap and commit horrible crimes. Please don't delete this review. You were just expressing your thoughts and there's nothing wrong with that.

logankstewart said...

@L: Chilling, indeed. I'm a cool-headed person, able to let my emotions rise and fall before I respond. I'm hoping that's how Capote was, too, and not just some emotionless man.

@Sarah: The book was fascinating, like getting in deeper with some sort of Dateline special or something. Good luck whenever you decide to read it.