Reviewed by Eileen
On November 15, 1959, a family of four in Kansas was savagely murdered in their house. Given the slightest hints of details, the scene can be terrifying to imagine, even after half a century has passed. Those who first got the news were overwhelmed by sympathy for the victims and horror against the brutal, cold-blooded culprits.
However, imagine the mindset of someone who might sympathize with the criminal. You might be astounded and doubt whether such a person could ever possible exist. Capote did, at least from certain subtle, elusive perspectives.
Truman Capote, an established American author, serialized the story in ‘The New Yorker’ as he investigated the murder.
After six years’ tracking and investigation, having conducted numerous interviews with the criminals, he went so deep into the case and came out with “In Cold Blood”, the in-depth, yet thought-provoking non-fictional novel based upon the real murders.
Unexpected to most readers, no bloody, terrifying scene has been painted, not even hinted. Instead, the writer records experience of the two criminals throughout the entire investigations. Perry Smith, 31 (when he committed the crime) was one of the two murderers, also the major character depicted. As the case developed, a multi-faceted Smith – image, personality, psychology, etc. – gradually takes shape and extends in readers’ minds. The retrospective descriptions of his youth and growth are stealthily incorporated, yet invisibly unfold a different Perry in readers’ minds, as a average person with a miserable youth, rather than a labeled criminal. It also helps to change the attitude of those who have been horrified by the cruel murderer, to show how he has hesitated, struggled, agonized – the hard psychological journey, or rather torture. As you read through, there might even be a passing thought to be mentally on his side, though soon vanishes as you find it extremely guilty and unfair to the victims. However, it did appear! That’s what Capote brings to the readers in the book.
Whatever happens, there might be many facets to view it; however a person is, he/she is unlikely to be born to be this way; whenever reminiscent of the past, there is always something lingering; whichever phase or situation you are through, there is at least someone observing, even feeling intimacy with you, though he/she might be at a distance.
In Smith, Capote saw the reflection of himself as they share similar experience: broken family; abandoned lonely childhood …. He went so far as to once observed, “It’s as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front.”
Immersed and involved psychologically in to a great extent, Capote came up with insights into the violence from a novel angle, hinted his position against sentence of death, and most significantly, suggested another perspective of looking into human nature.