Thursday, 3 November 2011

In Cold Blood- Truman Capote

In Cold Blood, a novel that appears on more than 10 different international lists of books that you have to read before you die and written by the author credited for the novel Breakfast at Tiffany's. You'd of thought this book to be life changing in so many ways.
The novel starts off slow, introducing several different characters and their lives; starting with the Clutters, a wealthy farming, Methodist family who live in the humble town of Holcomb, in Kansas. The family consists of Herbert Clutter, the father and head of the family; a wealthy man who runs the River Valley Farm, where the family live. He is described as "average height, standing just under five feet ten, Mr Clutter cut a man's-man figure. His shoulders were broad, his hair had held its dark colour, his square-jawed, confident face retained a healthy-hued youthfulness, and his teeth, unstained and strong enough to shatter walnuts, were still intact." He was a Kansas State University graduate ("majored in agriculture") and a well respected and liked citizen of the town. He didn't drink or smoke and kept himself healthy- a straight forward, well mannered man who was chairman of the Kansas Conference of Farm Organisations and was once a member of the Federal Farm Credit Board. His family follow close suit; his daughter Nancy and son Kenyon were smart children who did well in school. Both also attended the Methodist church and were popular, polite children. Kenyon enjoyed inventing things and wood craft (he used the playroom in the basement as a work space. Nancy had a boyfriend, Bobby Rupp- a school basketball hero. Whereas Mr Clutter approved of the pair dating, he didn't believe that they could ever marry as Bobby was a Roman Catholic; contrasting their Methodist beliefs. Herb (Mr Clutter) also had two elder daughters; Eveanna and Beverly, who are older and have married and now live elsewhere. The mother of the family and Herb's wife, Bonnie, is also from a pleasant background, however she has experienced post-natal depression and after the leave of her oldest daughters, now sleeps in a separate bedroom to Herb. She's become a very quiet and to herself person who appears sad much of the time. For this reason, many people are afraid to converse or be with her outside the family as she can be awkward and panicked.
Whilst introducing these characters, the novel also tells of a seemingly separate pair. Two men, travelling to Kansas together after they both get parole from prison. Perry and Dick have been convicted of stealing and assaulting in the past, but what they are travelling to Kansas to do is frighteningly worse. Dick speaks a lot of a plan. A fix. Can't go wrong. He enlists Perry (a friend from prison) into the plan and both prepare.
Ultimately, the plan was the murder and robbery of the Clutter family.
Based on a true story, Truman Capote was fascinated by the Clutter case, and while writing his book, made his own enquiries regarding the towns-people and Perry and Dick themselves at the time when they were on death row. Truman describes Perry as quite a sad, lonely and lost character. A man with a dreadful up-bringing and a history of rejection and as never married. Perry confesses to having killed all the family members, and that Dick merely made the plan from what he's heard from another friend in jail. Said friend had once worked for the Clutters on the farm and had remembered there being a safe and that Mr Clutter was a very wealthy man. However, the jail-mate did not believe Dick when he began plotter to burgle and murder the Clutter's: "No witnesses." However, when Dick and Perry invade the house, they leave with no more than $50 and a radio pair of binoculars to sell in a pawn shop. There was no such safe and the Clutters were bound and murdered, one by one (Mr Clutter first; cut his throat and then shot him in the head. Kenyon next; shot in the head; and then Nancy, and then Mrs Clutter, who are killed in the same way) for a seemingly un-just course.
The novel describes the murders as a shock to the community and people start to suspect friends and neighbours (they seem almost disappointed that the actual killers are unknown).
The book continues as thus: The Clutters are murdered and the main bulk of the book is Perry and Dick on the run, trying to find work from Mexico to California. In this time you find out more about Perry and Dick's up bringing and why they are who they are. Perry is uncovered as quite a pitiful character and clearly has some kind of mental illness (it's later discovered he could suffer from a form of schizophrenia). Whereas Dick seems to be the cold-hearted killer; the brains behind the plan; and the instigator (however you later find out that he too, could be suffering from a mental illness and didn't kill any of the Clutters).
Chapter 4 (the last chapter): The Corner, talks about the pairs trial, and short life on death row. It describes the other convicts on death row and how and why they're there; their history, present and even future (which they all had in common: death by hanging).
Finally, also in Chapter 4- Perry and Dick are hung. Dick first, takes 20 minutes to die; and then Perry, who also takes 20 minutes to die. Regardless of the over-indulged description and failure to be concise and stick to the plot, In Cold Blood definitely had an effect on me. I really felt for Nancy in particular, and Bobby after she died. I admired her and her brother, Kenyon's relationship and pitied her mother, Bonnie's state of loneliness and sadness. I failed to feel for Dick and his arrogant ways but Perry's story genuinely touched me and I was sad when he died. However feeling this made me feel bad because mental illness aside, he's killed an entire family! And not just any family, the Clutters were a lovely family, the stereotypical 1950's American family with a bit of a twist (being that Bonnie, bless her, was far from a stereotypical 1950's house wife).

So, to conclude: The book isn't as bad as I had worried it would be. It started slow, and ended slower- but the characters were charming and the descriptions of the families death and Perry's life was both touching and moving.
It is, however, definitely a masculine book and I recommend this to any novel-loving father/grandfather who enjoys a good american murder novel. As for us girls- if that's your kind of thing, brilliant, you're obviously more appreciative of classic fiction, but I think I'll stick to Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Happy Reading Book Worms! ♥

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