I just finished reading In Cold Blood by Capote. In Cold Blood is a novelization of a murder of a family. It starts with the backstory of the victims, the killers planning and carrying out the act, and then being on the lam, while the law tries to catch up, eventually resulting in capture, trial, and justice. If you’re interested in more about the plot, check out the amazon link above, or better yet, wikipedia. I found In Cold Blood to be an engaging page turner, and an enlightening insight into the psyches of stone cold killers. From the savagery of the acts, to the lack of remorse on the part of the killers, its a shocking look at what it takes (or perhaps what one must lack) in order to carry out such reprehensible actions. I highly recommend the book, as it was enjoyable to read, and of a subject matter to which I was not very familiar. When I was about halfway through the book, a friend of mine told me that a college girlfriend of his had written a thesis on the accuracy (or rather, inaccuracies) of In Cold Blood, which is credited with being the first (or at least the first highly successful) work of novelized non-fiction. I had a strong urge to investigate these claims immediately, but instead, I finished the book before reading about the controversies.
After I put the book down, I immediately got on the internet to investigate the claims about inaccuracies. In my opinion, the license taken by Capote was minimal. I realize he promoted the book, saying that, “every word” was true. However, the discrepancies that have been proved seem inconsequential to the overall theme/purpose of the book. Any discrepancies between fact and the book seem immaterial. Potential embellishments seem believable if not probable. The result is a book close to fact with good flow.
The main issue most seem to have with the book is the account of how a tip provided to the investigators plays out. It does seem like there is a clear discrepancy between the book, and the official account of the event. I can’t say I fully understand why this scene was modified from fact, but it does fit in the overall context of the book. The only difference I can ascertain from the modification is that the lead investigator comes out looking a little better. The book states that the lead investigator acted on a tip the same day he found out, and then dispatched a single man to check out the lead. The man interviewed some people on the pretense of a parole violation, when in reality, he was interested in catching the murderers. Its since been proved that in reality, the tip was not acted upon for five days, at which time four men were dispatched, who made no pretense about their purpose. Does this discrepancy damage the credibility of the author overall? Perhaps. Does it impede the efficacy of exploring and contemplating right and wrong, love and loss, mental health, crime and punishment, revenge, good and evil, justice, etc.? In my opinion, not at all. I certainly was not going to read a government report of the incident, and its unlikely that I’d have been interested in an old newspaper article about a murder over half a century ago in the middle of nowhere. Capote created a interesting and accessible work of art, that is based on fact, and takes some creative license in order to present a cohesive narrative with good flow. Even a factual account would omit some facts, but a straight factual account would not be as engaging. It would not present fascinating characters. It would not make the victims relatable and respectable, and the killers mysterious and intriguing. We would not be drawn into the investigator’s obsession. This is what makes In Cold Blood revolutionary, and what separates it from a simple journalistic account of the murders. The proved discrepancies, and potential embellishments do not seem to materially change the axioms of the book, so I don’t fault Capote for taking license with the work.
I think the most intelligent argument against In Cold Blood would be that engaging, but completely accurate books have been written, so therefore, there was no need to deviate and embellish. The best example I can think of is more of an historic account, rather than a novelization, but the stories are told in narrative prose, in a fairly similar style to a novel. Where Capote was interested in the wrong stuff, Wolfe chronicled the opposite. The difference between Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, and In Cold Blood, is that The Right Stuff concerned well-documented events, and heros that the public could forgive a few faults. Facts were easily checked, and accounts were less likely to be fabricated. In dealing with reprehensible acts, the truth may never be known, even to the perpetrators themselves. Capote likely dealt with conflicting stories, and had to assemble from many parts, the best, most accurate story possible. Capote had to connect the dots and fill in some gaps. Wolfe was more likely concerned with which of many true stories were most interesting, and most relevant. He also probably had to choose between accounts based on which was most entertaining, as opposed to which was most accurate. Working with less certainty, and likely knowing that a hundred percent level of accuracy was not possible (the killers might have been lying, even to themselves, and the dead could certainly not come back to tell their tale), Capote was probably less concerned with total accuracy than he was with efficacy of the story’s message. I think Capote ended up with a powerful tale, mostly factual, which left a mark on literature forever.This entry was posted in Books by rsiv with