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Built on interviews, newspaper articles, and official statements, In Cold Blood retells in ‘fictional novel form’ one of Kansas’ most brutal and disturbing murder cases of the 1950s, the massacre of an entire family in their home by two drifting misfits. Following the murder, the clueless hunt for the killers, the eventual arrest, the trial, and the execution, Capote explores the social war between ‘50s ‘ideal American culture’ and the rise of James Dean-esque ‘rebel’ culture.
Understandably controversial when it came out, considering that the trial was actually happening at the time of writing, Capote’s inspiration to make something artful out of something morbid and horrific is a touch pill to swallow. But In Cold Blood is a truly fascinating book! The prose is a wonderful mixture of poetic and factual language that reads like a fiction until it suddenly brings you back to earth with a reminder that this is a true story.
I would image the controversial edge of the novel comes from the scenes in which Capote writes about the two villains, writing intimately from their POV, humanising them. Such literary treatment delightfully conflicts with the brutal and motiveless murder at the heart of the book.
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But Capote does much more than just write a great nonfiction novel. Also skimming over other, similar murder cases, the book is an exploration into the protruding rifts in American society during the time, the main being the butting heads of the idealistic, wholesome, 1950’s ‘fellow American’ and the James Dean rebel. While there is also a slight exploration into mental illness and the criminally insane, the central theme of the book is simply the jealousies, resentments, and impatience of human nature and how even the most ‘normal’, socially stable, and mentally organised person can be brutal and cold.
An intriguing, rich, and compelling book, In Cold Blood certainly earns distinctions as one of the greatest examples of the nonfiction novel and true crime novel ever written!
Author: Truman Capote, 1965
Published: Random House (New York), 1966.