5.0 out of 5 stars
A literary milestone, Dec 17 2003
My wife is often exasperated by my habit of reading a book over and over again. Why do it, she asks, you know how it's going to turn out. Well, that's true in a way; especially with something like "In Cold Blood". Since it's based on a true story, you know the Clutters will die, you know the murderers will be captured and executed. What's the big deal?
But it's not that simple for me. I know every note of "Stairway to Heaven", yet it still gives me goose bumps. I know that fried chicken is crispy outside and juicy inside, but I order that more than anything else. I love picking up my Jack London stories in mid-winter. There's nothing like reading that stuff while some norther whoops and screams outside.
Hence, my affection for "In Cold Blood". I read it the first time when I was around 23 and took up reading as a pastime again as my flaming youth started to cool. I'm 44 and I think I've read that book maybe 15 times now. And just writing about it is making me want to read it again. In fact, I will probably have to buy a fresh copy because the binding on my paperback edition is starting to fail and pages are becoming loose.
Most true crime stories these days are drenched in such lurid detail the viscera and entrails practically dangle off the page. Torture, dismemberment, infanticide; make the story as horrific as possible to sell the books. These are the bastard children of Capote's novel, with as much emotion as an autopsy report. They are more akin to the "B" slasher feature at the drive-in.
But the murder here, while a central part of the story (without it, there would BE no story), is not the whole story. This is a very human drama, more in common with Steinbeck than Ed Gein. The killers are ruthless, to be sure - there's no doubt who's wearing the white hats and the black hats. But Capote drew all the characters as real people and not faceless archetypes. We've all known a family like the Clutters. Maybe we've passed under the malevolent eye of someone who shares something in common with Perry or Dick. And if something evil came our way, we all would want someone like Alvin Dewey to tirelessly pursue justice in our name.
And, like a great song or a good meal, Capote's prose paints a vivid picture that can be read again and again over time. The perspective of time in itself has given the novel a different insight. A crime that moved a jaded New York writer into immersing himself into a spartan, midwestern existence now seems almost quaint and old fashioned compared to the horrors that greet us each morning on the news.