Wednesday, July 4, 2012

In Cold Blood

Title: In Cold Blood
Author: Truman Capote
List: #53 on Radcliffe’s Top 100 20th Century Novels
Worth reading: Not really.

In Cold Blood is a bit of an interesting choice for inclusion on Radcliffe Publishing Course’s list of Top 100 20th Century Novels because it is definitely not a novel. Instead, it is a “true crime” non-fiction celebrated as the first of the true crime genre. Perhaps Radcliffe included the book on its list because of criticism that Truman Capote altered facts and dialogue and added scenes to suit his story. I have no information on how widespread or accurate that criticism is, I only know that Capote cited extensively to written and oral materials. So extensively, in fact, that he included pages and pages of excerpts from those materials. And while it was nice to see primary sources, it definitely broke up the story, especially when the excerpts went into irrelevant details. This was particularly jarring when the excerpts dealt with people only peripherally related to the story.

Perhaps I did not appreciate In Cold Blood as much as some readers who read it when it was first published did because I have become used to a higher standard of non-fiction writing. I have read many excellent non-fiction books that also make extensive use of primary sources. The difference is that those books make sure everything is related to the main story and do not include pages upon pages of excerpts. Instead, they use only the most pertinent sections or use the information in those sources to tell the story and form dialogue.

The story described in In Cold Blood is an interesting one. And Capote did an excellent job gathering background information on the murderers in an attempt to explain why they might have committed the atrocious act of killing four innocent people in rural Kansas. But I think Capote could have done a better job putting his information together in the book. I also think interested parties could get the same information from shorter articles on the internet without sacrificing any potential depth added by Capote. And so, unfortunately, I do not think this book is worth reading.

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