Saturday, August 4, 2007

Haunted by Truman Capote's elegant account of a dreadful murder (Books - In Cold Blood)


Sheila has been trying to get me to read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood for years. Capote origianlly began writing this now famous journalistic account of the brutal murder of the Clutter family in Kansas in 1959 and the two men who committed it, for The New Yorker. I think I've been afraid of it. I bought a copy maybe 15 years ago, and tried reading it several times and it creeped me out. It sat on my shelf taunting me. I finally sold it, probably before I moved back to New York. After seeing the wonderful movie Capote, I bought a copy on line for $1.99 - it still has its sticker. I tried reading it. I found the close scrutiny of all that horror and violence upsetting. I put it back on the bookshelf that faces me when I'm in bed. It bothered me. I moved it to another shelf, so it wouldn't stare at me. Do you have any books that stare you down? I don't like to have Donna Tart's The Secret History on that shelf near my bed. It resides elsewhere. I worked on a biographical play of Virgnia Woolf by Edna O'Brien for about five years before I was able to get it produced. That involved reading every word by and about her that I could find. I had an entire shelf devoted just to Woolf, Sackville West, Leonard Woolf's journals, Roger Fry - the whole gang. After the play was produced and played for the better part of a year, every time I looked at that shelf I felt haunted by her life and her madness to such an extent that I couldn't stand to have them around any more. I packed the entire shelf into two boxes and stuck it in the basement for several years. After I moved I was able to give them a place in apartment again.

Anyway, I read Gerald Clarke's marvelous biography of Capote instead. But Sheila keeps talking about what a marvelous writer Capote is and that this is his best so I'm starting to feel competitive. Yesterday I picked it up while taking a break from the pile of articles I'm reading for work. His descriptions are remarkably clear, his word choices precise and unexpected:
...it was from her that he inherited his coloring - the iodine skin, the dark, moist eyes, the black hair which he kept brilliantined and was plentiful enough to provide him with sideburns and a slippery spray of bangs.
or:
The map was ragged, so thumbed that it had grown as supple as a piece of chamois

But great stories are not restricted to telling, and even though Capote was not actually on the scene until after the crime, he introduces us to both the murderers' and their victims' lives prior to the event with an exactness that makes me feel a voyeur. Creating scenes or dialogue. Rather than describe Mrs. Clutter's state of mind with several sentences (although he does that too), he puts a single line of dialogue in her mouth:
All my children are very efficient. They don't need me.

Does anyone need any clarification?

Finally, I am just admiring the quality of his prose. His sentences can be quite long, but they proceed with such decorum, it's like driving down an elegant avenue lined with trees.

I'm hooked, Sheila.

4 comments:

sheila said...

It's about time!!! (No, just teasing) It's one of the greatest of American books ... I remember when I made Mitchell read it and he got so freaked out at one point (we were living together at the time) that he had to get up and check that all our doors and windows were locked.

The psychological portrait of the killers is something you will never forget.

Keep me posted as you read it!

I also LOVE your comments about how you felt certain books were staring at you, calling to you from the shelves.

Ted said...

Expect a call immediately following my first nightmare at 3am!

Eileen said...

Many years ago my brother-in-law was reading "In Cold Blood". At some point, the spirit of a man appeared in the bedroom with him, while he was reading the book. He was terrified. He and my sister thought there might be a connection to the book so they went to the library. They found photographs of the killers ...one photo was the same as the spirit that appeared in the bedroom with my brother-in-law. This happened during the day. If this isn't scary I don't know what is. To my knowledge, this is the only time he has ever experienced something paranormal.

Ted said...

Eileen
That is spoooookey. I think my trip inside their heads via TC was sufficient.