The Non-Fiction Pioneer
In Cold Blood is the first of its kind in the non-fiction literary genre written in 1965 by Truman Capote. In the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, where everybody knows one another and people rarely lock their doors, four members of the Clutter family were ruthlessly killed on November 15, 1959. The murderers were unknown. With few clues left in the wake of four bound and gagged bodies discovered with point-blank shotgun blasts to their heads, Capote in wild excitement dropped everything he was doing to make his way down to the murder scene in Holcomb.
For the next four years, Capote meticulously interviewed people in the town who knew the Clutters. He also befriended the two murderers, Perry Smith and Richard “Dick” Hickock, and remained in close contact with each up until their execution. After 8,000 pages of notes and the ex-cons responsible for the slayings were hanged, Capote published his novel in 1966.
One aspect that makes this novel so great is its deadpan, often agonizing, description of the murder scene. When Susan Kidwell discovers her close friend’s dead body, she said “Nancy Ewalt says I did—screamed and screamed. I only remember Nancy’s Teddy bear staring at me. And Nancy. And running.” Capote’s descriptive prowess takes the reader in the house. You see the blood, you hear the silence, and you know the Clutters are gone forever.
Another thing about the novel that draws the reader in is its eerie analysis of the culprit’s psychology. Capote provides a full narrative of what life on the run was like for the two convicts: we learn about the trail of bounced checks across America that led authorities to their whereabouts; we learn about Hickock’s pedophiliac tendencies, his ironic obsession to be perceived as “a normal,” and his envy of other successful men; we also learn about Perry’s promiscuous alcoholic mother, his years in a Catholic orphanage where he was beat for wetting the bed, and his addiction to aspirin as a way to manage the incessant pain in his bowed-legs.
In Cold Blood brings the reader inside the Clutter family before their fatal demise. There’s the successful Herbert Clutter, a proud father, who never takes stimulants and wakes up early every morning to tend to his farm. Then there is his fragile wife, Bonnie Clutter, who over the years of their marriage has become reclusive, a sort of invalid. Kenyon, their son, is the typical well-mannered, all American young man. And finally, but definitely not least, is Nancy Clutter. An amazingly talented young woman who has everything going for her only makes these senseless murders that more tragic.
It is a novel that will disturb you, a novel that will have you biting your fingernails, and it is a novel that will have you shaking your head in anguish of how such a monstrous act could have befallen on such a beautiful family.