"In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote
A Reading Experience (Pt.55)
I first read this book when I was about fifteen years’ old and it was because I had seen it in the local library but it was a tattered copy and so, I bought my own - intact. From not even opening the book, I felt like this was an important text. I wrote the following about it in my diary even before actually reading the book: “there’s something strange about this book. It’s as if it is asking me not to read it but it’s pulling me in. Something about the phrase ‘in cold blood’ sounds unnerving and dangerous. I’ve heard a bit about it but I was never sure to rely on other people’s verdicts of novels. Apparently though, according to some people - this isn’t really a novel at all. Then what is it?” That was the question I had asked: “What is it?” It isn’t really a novel because it isn’t really fiction and, as I know after many re-reads over the years, it isn’t entirely accurate either and so, it isn’t a non-fiction novel. It is an embellishment of the truth for the sake of entertainment and so, it is half and half, something that humans have been doing for centuries. Yet, it is entirely new. It is the new, modern version of criminal justice novels. It was true-crime and this is where I had first encountered a book of which the entire genre would come to change everything about what I believed literature could be. I would be obsessing over true crime for near a decade afterwards and it would be because of “In Cold Blood”. The first question you always ask yourself when you read “In Cold Blood” for the first time and that was the same question I asked myself when I finished the book. I wrote in my diary: “This was a strange book, I’ve never really read anything like it. The moment I finished it, I just sat there thinking about the same question over and over again - ‘what happens if it’s all entirely true?’”
Honestly, I couldn’t believe for a second that people could just do that to each other. I was a protected child, pious and yet, I wasn’t into being bossed around. I was a naughty child at school but by no means threatening. When I finished reading “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote, I realised that when these people were murdered, there was something so insanely human about the murderers that, like a pair of Holden Caulfield characters, you couldn’t help but sympathise with their misery even slightly. However, when you remember what they had done to become so miserable and express that kind of remorse, you could have no sympathy at all for them. They killed a family of people for absolutely no real reason whatsoever.
The way in which Truman Capote writes this dramatic tragedy is with utter brilliance. He writes about the murders meticulously and with a great amount of hyper-activity - every single page, there is a development, something is happening, something is in motion. Whereas, when we get on to the trial, we seem to have these moments of sensational silence and great tensions in which it feels like nobody is talking, nothing is in motion and nobody has anything to say. They are either stunned into silence or they have run out of words. The book, when you first read it, seems scarily realistic and when you imagine the images in your head, it becomes obsessively real. A great novel, it also makes for a brilliant piece of material when studying the emotional and psychological side of the case at hand. The murders are given yet a small amount of time and the main focus is the two men who committed it, what their stories are, where they stand and how they try not to gain sympathy from other spectators of the case, but the very readers of the book who are drawn to them in a strange an almost maternal/paternal way.
When finished, you can look back at the book and really sit down and think about the justice system in America and how it can actually make monsters out of people who we encounter in everyday life. And when you look even closer you see that they have made monsters out of themselves with the crimes they committed. Both are perfectly present in this novel. In my re-reads, I love studying the sympathy battle we have with ourselves and we examine humanity as the actual monster. Our ability not to see the evil of others often clouds our vision as to what they make be able to do. Vision always has been clouded by the ‘pale cast of thought’ as Shakespeare would say. In this case, the automatic thought is to think that our neighbours are essentially good people.