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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

In Cold Blood: Truman Capote Tribute

I could talk about one of my idols Truman Capote for days, and maybe at a later time I will talk more about his life here in the blog but for now let's talk about "In Cold Blood" which I recently read.  I read it in a day as I could NOT put it down.  So if your looking for an incredible book this is it.  If you want an incredible gay author, Truman is your fellow.

In Cold Blood

The "new book," In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences (1966),
was inspired by a 300-word article that ran on page 39 of The New York Times on November 16, 1959 (reproduced below). The story described the unexplained murder of the Clutter family in rural Holcomb, Kansas.
Wealthy Farmer, 3 of Family Slain
A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife, and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home. They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged. The father, 48-year-old Herbert W. Clutter, was found in the basement with his son, Kenyon, 15. His wife Bonnie, 45, and a daughter, Nancy, 16, were in their beds. There were no signs of a struggle and nothing had been stolen. The telephone lines had been cut. "This is apparently the case of a psychopathic killer," Sheriff Earl Robinson said. Mr. Clutter was founder of The Kansas Wheat Growers Association. In 1954, President Eisenhower appointed him to the Farm Credit Administration, but he never lived in Washington. 
 The board represents the twelve farm credit districts in the country. Mr. Clutter served from December, 1953 until April, 1957. He declined a reappointment. He was also a local member of the Agriculture Department's Price Stabilization Board and was active with the Great Plains Wheat Growers Association. The Clutter farm and ranch cover almost 1,000 acres in one of the richest wheat areas. Mr. Clutter, his wife and daughter were clad in pajamas. The boy was wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt. The bodies were discovered by two of Nancy's classmates, Susan Kidwell and Nancy Ewalt. Sheriff Robinson said the last reported communication with Mr. Clutter took place last night about 9:30 PM, when the victim called Gerald Van Vleet, his business partner, who lives near by. Mr. Van Vleet said the conversation had concerned the farm and ranch. Two daughters were away. They are Beverly, a student at the University of Kansas, and Mrs. Donald G. Jarchow of Mount Carroll, Illinois.
Fascinated by this brief news item, Capote traveled with Harper Lee to Holcomb and visited the scene of the massacre. Over the course of the next few years, he became acquainted with everyone involved in the investigation and most of the residents of the small town. Rather than taking notes during interviews, Capote committed conversations to memory and immediately wrote quotes as soon as an interview ended. He claimed his memory retention for verbatim conversations had been tested at "over 90%".

Lee lent Capote considerable assistance during his research for In Cold Blood. During the first few months of his investigation, she was able to make inroads into the community by befriending the wives of those Capote wanted to interview. Capote recalled his years in Kansas when he spoke at the 1974 San Francisco International Film Festival:
I spent four years on and off in that part of Western Kansas there during the research for that book and then the film. What was it like? It was very lonely. And difficult. Although I made a lot of friends there. I had to, otherwise I never could have researched the book properly. The reason was I wanted to make an experiment in journalistic writing, and I was looking for a subject that would have sufficient proportions. I’d already done a great deal of narrative journalistic writing in this experimental vein in the 1950s for The New Yorker... But I was looking for something very special that would give me a lot of scope. 
I had come up with two or three different subjects and each of them for whatever reasons was a dry run after I’d done a lot of work on them. And one day I was gleaning The New York Times, and way on the back page I saw this very small item. And it just said, "Kansas Farmer Slain. Family of Four Is Slain in Kansas." A little item just about like that. And the community was completely nonplussed, and it was this total mystery of how it could have been, and what happened.
 And I don't know what it was. I think it was that I knew nothing about Kansas or that part of the country or anything. And I thought, "Well, that will be a fresh perspective for me"... And I said, "Well, I’m just going to go out there and just look around and see what this is." And so maybe this is the subject I’ve been looking for. Maybe a crime of this kind is... in a small town. It has no publicity around it and yet had some strange ordinariness about it. So I went out there, and I arrived just two days after the Clutters’ funeral. The whole thing was a complete mystery and was for two and a half months. Nothing happened. I stayed there and kept researching it and researching it and got very friendly with the various authorities and the detectives on the case. But I never knew whether it was going to be interesting or not. 
You know, I mean anything could have happened. They could have never caught the killers. Or if they had caught the killers... it may have turned out to be something completely uninteresting to me. Or maybe they would never have spoken to me or wanted to cooperate with me. But as it so happened, they did catch them. In January, the case was solved, and then I made very close contact with these two boys and saw them very often over the next four years until they were executed. But I never knew... when I was even halfway through the book, when I had been working on it for a year and a half, I didn't honestly know whether I would go on with it or not, whether it would finally evolve itself into something that would be worth all that effort. Because it was a tremendous effort.
In Cold Blood was published in 1966 by Random House after having been serialized in The New Yorker. The "nonfiction novel," as Capote labeled it, brought him literary acclaim and became an international bestseller.
A feud between Capote and British arts critic Kenneth Tynan erupted in the pages of The Observer after Tynan's review of In Cold Blood implied that Capote wanted an execution so the book would have an effective ending. Tynan wrote:
We are talking, in the long run, about responsibility; the debt that a writer arguably owes to those who provide him—down to the last autobiographical parentheses—with his subject matter and his livelihood... For the first time an influential writer of the front rank has been placed in a position of privileged intimacy with criminals about to die, and—in my view—done less than he might have to save them. The focus narrows sharply down on priorities: does the work come first, or does life? An attempt to help (by supplying new psychiatric testimony) might easily have failed: what one misses is any sign that it was ever contemplated.

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