Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood Quietly Induces Nightmares 50 years later

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

“At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them—four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives. But afterward the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy re-creating them over and again—those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers.” (Capote, 5)

There are so many books on my shelves that I mean to read. One of them was In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. It’s been in four different apartments. I finally read it when my friend Nicole decided to read it. She is one of those phenomenal people that uses the public library on a weekly basis. So her version was quite older than mine and much more beautiful.

In Cold Blood is intensely haunting. Capote describes a time, place, community, and era effortlessly. The reader quickly and gently falls into 1959 Kansas, into a small town that is forever changed by a single act by two outsiders. Wanting to write the story in journalistic fashion, Capote covers all aspects of the murder: the victims, the friends and family, the law enforcement, and the murderers.

Capote carefully describes the murders of the Clutter family. He respects the delicacy of describing death without degrading the Clutter family. Not only does Capote describe the family, but he also explores the family’s relationships: Nancy Clutter and her best friend, Susan Kidwell who planned to room together at Kansas State University.

Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock are two young criminals who meet in prison. They hear of the Clutter family’s wealth, blown out of proportion by a fellow inmate. They murder the family of four for roughly six dollars. Their relationship is described and then redescribed as their relationship evolves with each crime they commit. Perry and Dick’s families are also interviewed, revealing hidden depths to the young men. Capote does this objectively without ever intending sympathy; he is merely telling the whole story.

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation had 18 officers working full-time on this case. Capote focuses on only a couple of them, and how they worked endlessly to find the two killers. Additionally, because the town is so small, the jail cell is in the same house as the Under Sheriff, with meals cooked for Perry by the Under Sheriff’s wife, Mrs. Meier. Of all the relationships, the one between Mrs. Meier and Perry is the most poignant. Perry seems to realize that this is one of his last relationships he will form before going to prison, resulting in an honesty we hadn’t seen before.

This very old book, written so very long ago, could feel very removed from present day reality. And yet, Capote’s storytelling is direct, his language concise, his book holds up. It’s also scary as f*ck because it’s the heart of your childhood nightmares: being murdered while safely ensconced with your family in your home. While reading this book, I had multiple nightmares one night: I dreamt I was Nancy, and then her best friend, and then her best friend who was also murdered (which does not happen). Even though the book is over fifty years old, the book still has the ability to evoke sadness for a family you never knew, who have been dead so many decades.

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

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