Beth's Book Review

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

fe9fbe58536fd26c6d6b_In_Cold_Blood.jpg
fe9fbe58536fd26c6d6b_In_Cold_Blood.jpg

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (Random House, 1965)

 

In Cold Blood is, quite simply, the grand-daddy of true crime writing, dubbed by Capote, himself, as the first non-fiction novel (although Norman Mailer argued the point when he published The Executioner's Song in 1979.) The conditions under which I read In Cold Blood for the first time were pretty weird, which was another reason why the book has held such power over me.

I grew up in the sleepy, safe-haven of Highland Park. My family lived three blocks from the Raritan River, three blocks from Raritan Avenue, the main street in town, and one block from our local synagogue. My best friend, Betsy lived next door to me, and my dear friend, Elihu, lived a couple of houses down on the other side of the street.

Sign Up for E-News

On a bitter cold Saturday in February of 1965 an unforgettable drama unfolded on the front lawn of our home. An ambulance had been parked outside of Elihu's house for over an hour, which we found odd. Elihu's father came rumbling down the street in his old woody station wagon, and suddenly he was banging his fists on the car screaming, “Oh my God! She was my wife! She was my wife!” Within a short time of that moment we learned that Elihu's mother and sister had been stabbed to death in their home. No money or jewelry was taken; there was no sexual assault. In fact, no motive has been established ever for the crime, and no one was ever caught and punished for it. The Rubenstein murders shattered the illusion of peace and safety that we had in our borough and nothing ever felt quite the same again.

As a result of my standing outside our house for hours in the cold, I came down with pneumonia and was out of school for a month. Already an avid reader, my father bought me the same copy of In Cold Blood that I take off my shelf and re-read every few years, just to see if it's as well written as I remember, and it never disappoints me. I rested on the couch in our living room, reading Capote's masterpiece about murder in a small farming community and quaked every afternoon when I was left alone as my parents went to work. The book is a frightening reminder that no matter how safe we feel, we may not be.

Capote had it in mind to try a “non-fiction” novel in the mid-1950s, but he was waiting for the right story to come along. One day he caught a blurb in the New York Time, about a family of four, shot-gunned to death in the rural community of Holcomb, Kansas. He thought that this might be the story that he had been looking for to create his true crime book. He called his best friend, Harper Lee, (yes, the one who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird) and asked her to accompany him by train from New York to Holcomb, where he was to spend the next seven years of his life, observing and interviewing the people of the town, and ultimately, the two killers, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock. Capote managed to develop close relationships with many of the people who appear in the story, and he never took notes during an interview. As a writer, I always found his process fascinating. He did not tape-record nor write down anything that was said to him until he returned to his motel room, where he then took notes.

Although his publisher was clamoring for the book to be finished seven years later, in 1966, Capote insisted that he wait for the final chapter to be written in real life, the executions of Smith and Hickock in the Kansas State penitentiary. Having formed a rather close bond with Perry Smith over the years that he was able to visit and interview him, Capote was deeply shaken when he attended the executions. In fact, Capote admitted that he was never the same after witnessing the hangings of the two cold-blooded killers.

The book is so neatly done, divided into four crisp parts: The Last to See Them Alive, Persons Unknown, Answer, and the Corner. Capote's language is simple, sparse, yet hauntingly descriptive. Some of the imagery that he uses has stayed with me always, particularly the description of the four members of the Clutter family as they were viewed in their caskets at the funeral home.

Capote writes, “The four coffins, which quite filled the small, flower-crowded parlor, were to be sealed at the funeral services---very understandably, for despite the care taken with the appearance of the victims, the effect achieved was disquieting. Nancy wore her dress of cherry-red velvet, her brother a bright plaid shirt; the parents were more sedately attired, Mr. Clutter in navy-blue flannel, his wife in navy-blue crepe; and---it was this, especially that lent the scene an awful aura---the head of each was completely encased in cotton, a swollen cocoon twice the size of an ordinary blown-up balloon, and the cotton, because it had been sprayed with a glossy substance, twinkled like Christmas-tree snow.” (p.95)

What is particularly disquieting about Capote's description of the dead family, is that most of Part I of the book establishes the characters of the four members of the Clutter family who were killed in the middle of the night in their home. Mr. Clutter, in his mid-forties, was a kind man, considered a pillar of the community. Generous to those who worked on his farm and to his neighbors, he was respected and revered as a religious man. His wife, Bonnie, suffered from some form of depression, which kept her secluded from family and friends. She spent her days staring out of her bedroom window, withdrawn from the happy lives of those around her. Nancy, a sixteen year old extrovert, served as a role model to children in the community, taking time to teach a little girl how to bake a cherry pie just hours before the teen was shot in her bed. Nancy loved her big old work horse named Babe, her best friend, Susan Kidwell, and her boyfriend, Bobby Rupp. The last member of the family to be shot was Kenyon, the only Clutter son, a shy boy who was good with his hands, and very near sighted. Two older daughters were not living on the Clutter farm at the time of the murders, so they did survive.

In fewer than 100 pages, Capote breathes life back into the four victims as the reader relives the events of the last day of their lives. Now dead nearly sixty years, every time I read this book, I am awed by how alive the Clutters seem to me through the way Capote depicts them. I can visualize their last good day, and the terrorizing moments at the end of their lives when Smith and Hickock walked into their house with the purpose of robbing and “blasting hair all over them walls.”

Although Hickock had had a tip from a former cell mate named Floyd Wells that Mr. Clutter kept a safe with lots of money in it, nothing could have been further from the truth. Once Hickock realized that he had been duped by Wells after a thorough search of the Clutter home for the safe, he flew into a violent rage.

But it is Perry Smith's confession to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation that the reader learns the true depravity of the crime. He reveals, “Dick sood guard outside the bathroom door while I reconnoitered. I frisked the girl's room, and I found a little purse---like a doll's purse. Inside it was a silver dollar. I dropped it somehow, and it rolled across the floor. Rolled under a chair. I had to get down on my knees. And just then it was like I was outside myself. Watching myself in some nutty movie. It made me sick. I was just disgusted. Dick, and all his talk about a rich man's safe, and here I am crawling on my belly to steal a child's silver dollar. One dollar. And I'm crawling on my belly to get it.” (p.240)

The other thing that Capote does so well in the book is that he fully develops the backgrounds and tragedies that shaped the characters of Smith and Hickock so that although we know that they are monsters, we understand their human frailties and why they take the violent actions that they do in the story. We realize the full impact of how learning of their violent actions will shame their families forever, and most importantly Capote reveals that a Smith or a Hickock acting alone would never had had the audacity to commit the crime, but the combination of their two dysfuctional lives would end in spontaneous combustion that would take the lives of the four Clutters, as well as their own in a cold, lonely Kansas warehouse at the end of swinging ropes, their necks broken.

If you have never read In Cold Blood, it is still easily available in book stores, an ever popular classic in crime lore. This is a book that is impossible to put down as you read, and it will linger with you long after the last page is finished. It, in fact, has lingered with me since my teen years, an unforgettable story of enormous tragedy for the victims as well as the cold-blooded killers.

Beth Moroney, former English teacher and administrator in the Edison Public School District, specialized in teaching Creative Writing and Journalism. Recently Moroney published Significant Anniversaries of Holocaust/Genocide Education and Human/Civil Rights, available through the New Jersey Commission on the Holocaust. A passionate reader, Moroney is known for recommending literature to students, teachers, parents, and the general public for over forty years. Moroney can be contacted at trackdak19@hotmail.com.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Bloomfield

Here Comes the Rain Again, Starting Saturday July 21 and Continuing On and Off All Week

July 20, 2018

NEW YORK, NY - The National Weather Service is predicting a mostly wet week for Northern New Jersey with showers starting Saturday night and continuing on and off all week.

Today (Friday July 20) and Saturday until around 4 p.m. are expected to be sunny and partly sunny days. For Saturday there is a 30% chance of showers after 4 p.m. On Saturday night, expect showers and possible thunderstorms ...

Bloomfield Blood Drive Scheduled for 07/19

BLOOMFIELD, NJ-- A Community Blood Drive sponsored by the Bloomfield Health Department and Bloomfield Fire Department will be held on Thursday, July 19th from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m..  The Bloodmobile will be parked in front of The Bloomfield Health Department Building located at 1 Municipal Plaza.  

Anyone interested in donating is urged to set up an appointment by clicking ...

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_943dfb010370a52cb955_mini_magick20180710-114167-j5hk5r

Sat, July 21, 3:00 PM

Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center, Little Falls

Sports, Medicine, and the Opioid Crisis

Education Health & Wellness Sports

Carousel_image_e8caf8f288f950009ca3_library_montclair_ants_in_pants

Mon, July 23, 4:00 PM

Bellevue Avenue Branch, Upper Montclair

Ants in the Pants: Children’s Author Jolie Della ...

Education

Carousel_image_b3cfb9d1c9647a4f98fa_mountainside_logo_meridian

Mon, July 23, 7:00 PM

Hospital Auditorium, Glen Ridge

Tour of the Birthing Center

Health & Wellness

Carousel_image_894baa8375cb9dd2f0cb_mini_magick20180718-26014-1b0psr8

Tue, July 24, 2:00 PM

Montclair Public Library, Auditorium, Montclair

What’s All That Jazz About? with Shenole Latimer

Arts & Entertainment Education

Carousel_image_71f510c1d4958086ac22_z_verona_summer_concerts_2018

Wed, July 25, 7:00 PM

Verona Civic Center Square, Verona

Verona Summer Concert Series!

Arts & Entertainment Business & Finance Food & Drink Government

Carousel_image_839567c057b5b1db93e9_bill-boat_504x353_web

Thu, July 26, 6:00 PM

River Barge Park & Marina, Carlstadt

Meadowlands Discovery Sunset Eco-Cruise

Education Green Travel

The New Pioneer Spirit in Bloomfield

The initial patent for the land that would become Bloomfield Township was granted to the English Puritan colonists of Newark, and the area assigned to Essex County in 1675, and Newark Township in 1693. From the 1690's to about the 1720's, much of the northern and eastern land was sold to descendants of New Netherland colonists who had settled Acquackanonk, and the remainder mostly to ...

Bloomfield Police Department Blotter June 25 to July 1, 2018

July 6, 2018

BLOOMFIELD, NJ - The following police blotter has been issued by Lt. Anthony Sisco of the Bloomfield Police Department.

Shoplifting:

6/26/18- Robert Jimenez Age 37 of Paulsboro, NJ-Officers were dispatched to 60 Orange Street (Home Depot) on report of a shoplifter in custody. Mr. Jiminez was observed attempting to leave the store with unpaid merchandise valued at $417.00. He was ...

Those Boarded-Up Homes in the West Ward? Newark Has a Plan for Them.

July 20, 2018

Newark, NJ - The city is using the power of eminent domain to reduce the number of condemned homes and vacant lots scattered throughout the West Ward.

The redevelopment plan for the West Ward was introduced in 2016 and encompasses properties from the border of Irvington to South 13th Street between South Orange Avenue and 16th Avenue. One of the main goals of the plan is to support new ...

Newark's North Ward: The Center of the City's Car Culture

NEWARK, NJ—It started six years ago with a September car show and family friendly community event on Mt. Prospect Avenue. Today, Thursday evenings at the Mt. Prospect Marketplace feature Cruiser Nights in season. A second car show event in June attracted nearly 100 classic cars and auto enthusiasts of all ages. 

Now, the busy North Ward corridor has become the center of car culture ...

An Evening with Dianne Grossman, Mallory's Mom & Founder of Mallory's Army

July 20, 2018

SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Mallory Rose Grossman, a 12-year-old girl from Rockaway, NJ, took her own life on June 14, 2017, after enduring horrific bullying. Following the pain of this senseless tragedy, her parents, Dianne and Seth Grossman, started a charitable foundation called Mallory’s Army™. Its mission is to change behavior, provide education to parents, and create enrichment ...

CAIR-NJ Condemns Fliers Posted in Bridgewater, Surrounding Area by White Supremacist Group Identity Evropa

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - The New Jersey Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) has condemned the distribution of fliers promoting Identity Evropa, a white supremacist group, in Bridgewater, Somerville, Morristown and other areas, according to a release Wednesday.

"The promotion of a racist and white supremacist group should not be tolerated in our ...

Spectacular Sunrise Begins Day along Belmar Beachfront

July 20, 2018

BELMAR, NJ — Early Belmar beachgoers enjoyed this stunning sunrise this morning for the start of what is expected to be the best weather day of the weekend.

Sunny skies will dominate with a high near 79 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. The ocean temperature is 74 degrees with a low risk of rip tides along the oceanfront, so expect those green waves to be flying high, ...

'Diggin' It' at Belmar's Annual Sandcastle Contest

BELMAR, NJ — Belmar’s 18th Avenue beach turned into a giant sandbox for the hundreds of participants in Wednesday's 32nd Annual Sandcastle Contest.

As thousands of spectators crowded around to watch the building process unfold on July 18, sand sculptors of all ages took their pails, shovels, spray bottles and other tools — and tricks —  of the trade to create a ...

To Our Current and Future Representatives

July 18, 2018

To Our Current and Future Representatives - Wherever They May Be:

We can never forget we are a nation of immigrants. 

We cannot fall prey to fear, ignorance and anger when we  have been historically driven by freedom and justice. 

We must have the courage and will to fight hate, bigotry and prejudice. 

We must not wake up to what we hoped was a bad dream and ...

Entrepreneurs Continue Bloomfield's Centuries' Old Pioneering Tradition

To the Editor:

The initial patent for the land that would become Bloomfield Township was granted to the English Puritan colonists of Newark, and the area assigned to Essex County in 1675, and Newark Township in 1693. From the 1690s to about the 1720s, much of the northern and eastern land was sold to descendants of New Netherland colonists who had settled Acquackanonk, and the remainder mostly ...

Thursday Movies Continue to the end of July at the Bloomfield Public Library

July 19, 2018 - BLACK PANTHER This American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name is a financial and critical blockbuster! After the death of his father, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to the African nation of Wakanda to take his rightful place as king. When a powerful enemy suddenly reappears, T'Challa's resilience as king - and as ...

Monday Movies Continue Through The End of July

July 16, 2018 - SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME

Successful businessman Ron Hall (Greg Kinnear) and his wife, Deborah (Renee Zellweger), discover a renewed sense of purpose when they begin to volunteer at a local mission in Fort Worth, Texas. Their lives change forever when they develop an unlikely friendship with Denver Moore (Djimon Hounson), a homeless man who inspires them to save their ...

The Jaffe Briefing - July 19, 2018

TRENTON - Once the state budget is adopted June 30, you'd think the governor gets a break from scrutiny. Unless you are former Gov. Chris Christie, sitting in that beach chair. Or, now, Gov. Phil Murphy, getting wacked for having the players on his Sky Blue FC pro women's soccer team living in alleged squalor. Living in houses with plastic bags for windows, sleeping in bunk ...

5 Simple Ways to Save Water this Summer

July 16, 2018

According to the L.A. Times, the average American uses an estimated 98 gallons of water EACH day.  

Here are five simple ways you can save water, to help you conserve water this summer and take some pressure off of your drains.

1. Unless you are using it, turn the faucet off. How many of us still leave the water running while we shave or brush our teeth?According to ...

People I've Known and Been: Little by Little by Rich Little

People I've Known and Been: Little by Little by Rich Little (Dog Ear Publishing, 2015)

 

Rich Little is a national treasure; a living encyclopedia of movie stars, comedians, and former presidents all wrapped into one dynamic package. Recently, my husband and I had the good fortune to see Little perform at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, where he has been doing his uncanny ...

Lucia, Lucia by Adriani Trigiani

Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani (Ballentine Books, 2003)

 

If a summer romance novel is what you are craving to read as you sit by the pool or beach, Adriana Trigiani's Lucia, Lucia is a perfect choice. Set in 1950 New York City, the novel is about a young woman, Lucia Sartori, who is determined to have a career and be able to support herself, an unusual choice for a girl who was ...

The Anatomy of Escape by Mike Blue

The Anatomy of Escape: An Unconventional Adventure by Mike Blue (Available on Amazon)

 

Imagine that you could just say, “Chuck it,” and walk away from the bonds that keep you tied to what Mike Blue, author of The Anatomy of Escape: An Unconventional Adventure, defines as the restrictive Work-Consume-Die cycle. To most of us, becoming what Blue terms “a ...

The Death of Koko the Gorilla

Koko's Kitten, Koko's Story, The Eduction of Koko all by Dr. Francine Patterson

 

Last night when I heard about the death of Koko, the lowland gorilla who was educated to communicate through American Sign Language by Dr. Francine Patterson, I went numb with grief. I have followed the life of Koko, her two gorilla companions, Michael and Ndume, as well as Dr. Patterson for forty ...

Edison Based India Day Parade Kick's Off in Washington D.C.

July 20, 2018

In a “Kickoff Event” for the annual India Day Parade, taking place this year on August 12th in Edison, members of the Indian Business Association descended on Capitol Hill to promote national awareness of the annual celebration and highlight policy issues affecting Indian-Americans.

 

The event, held in the conference room of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, was ...

Montclair Health Department Offers Free Cancer Clinic to Eligible Essex County Women, Sept. 27

MONTCLAIR, NJ– The Montclair Health Department is offering a Women’s Clinic/Cancer Screening event on Thursday, September 27, at the Montclair Municipal Building, 205 Claremont Avenue, third floor, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. 

The following will be offered:

Pelvic Examination and PAP Smear testing for early detection of cervical cancer (age 21 and ...

Murphy Administration Takes Action to Help Smokers Quit

Eliminates Prior Approval for Medicaid Tobacco Cessation Medications; Counseling Options to be Expanded

July 16, 2018

(TRENTON) – The Murphy administration on Monday announced new steps to help New Jersey Medicaid recipients quit using tobacco by making it easier to receive tobacco cessation medications and counseling.

“Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death ...

Take the 2018 TAPinto Reader Survey

How often do you read TAPinto?  Have you downloaded the TAPinto APP?  These are a few of the questions for readers in our 2018 TAPinto Reader Survey.

We want to hear from you!

The survey will take less than five minutes to complete and will help TAPinto better serve you. 

Take the 2018 TAPinto Reader Survey.

Thank you.  We appreciate your support and ...

Obituaries

Mar 9, 1978 - Jul 13, 2018
Christopher J. Barra, Sr., lifelong resident of Bloomfield, passed away on July 13, 2018 at the age ...
Read more
Jun 10, 1983 - Jun 17, 2018
Ryan M. Lucas, 35 Proud Marine Veteran and Nutley Firefighter Ryan M. Lucas, a lifelong ...
Read more