Capote recounts the 1959 Clutter family callous murders in Holcomb, Kansas. While much has been disputed by other writers as well as some Holcomb residents, no one disputes the excellence of the writing. The story did have a somewhat saccharine 1960’s feel, but for me it put me in that time and place so while I may acquiesce to some of its factual critics, I still hold to its being a superior piece of work.
Details of the senseless killing of Herbert, Bonnie, Kenyon and Nancy Clutter in November 1959 are captured by Capote who weaves a perfect blend backtracking to the victim’s lives as well as to the two parolees responsible for their deaths. We learn much of these people and what is so startling is the awareness that the slaughter was a random act by two men who looked at the act as a necessary means to an end and never seemed remorseful.
Nancy Clutter is described as a very well liked high school girl always willing to help anyone who asked. She dates a local football player, plays piano, cares for the house her unwell mother is unable to, and looks forward to college and seeing more of the world. Her young life is cut short by the ex cons who want to leave no witnesses. After hearing two shotgun blasts that take her father and brother’s lives, and then footsteps on the stairs to her bedroom, as her door opens, she reportedly turns her back to her killers so as not to see what she knows will be her inevitable last moment.
Perry Smith, who acknowledges shooting all four family members is the son of an itinerant Irishman and alcoholic Native American Indian mother. His family life is very troubled; one sister falls or jumps to her death, a brother kills his wife and then himself, Perry lands in prison and one sister seems to be the only stable member of the family. Perry carries grudges; against his family, against the nuns who beat him when he wet the bed, against the nurse who nearly killed him holding him under ice. He is proud of his intelligence and believes himself superior to most, but regrets his lack of a formal education. Unfortunately, rather than utilizing his intelligence, he looks for an easy score, even when it means leaving no witnesses. A very sad and scary man who seemed destined for self-destruction.
Richard Hickock, Smith’s partner in crime comes from a good family, did well in school and was well liked. When his family is unable to fulfill his dream of going to college, he begins a downward spiral. His first marriage bears three children he never seems to be aware of and his second marriage ends as well. He decides to look for quick fixes and ends up in prison. He plays the role of macho man, but he singled Smith out as the trigger man and does not actually take part in the acts that take the Clutters’ lives. His behavior following the crime certainly don’t garner him any sympathy as he jokes outside the family home. Insinuations of pedophilia and Smith’s statements of his intention to rape Nancy Clutter are equally distressing.
As a dictionary toting youngster myself, I’d feel quite at ease with Mr. Capote. Perhaps a visit to his hometown of New Orleans could serve as a meeting place where I’d be at the ready with questions on his natural writing skills. I’m sure he’d be a marvellous storyteller as well and I’d be content to sit back and take it in.
My rating for In Cold Blood is a 10 out of 10.
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Next up, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights…