Comments on

In Cold Blood

Original entry posted: Tue May 27 17:09:20 2008

That Fuzzy Bastard @ Thu May 29 11:36:30 2008 EST

You know, I've always considered In Cold Blood to be one of the more massively overrated books in a scene (The New Yorker world of the Shawn years) full of overrated books.

Certainly it's not as though Capote invented the true crime genre, which has has a huge presence in the catalog of less-reputable presses since at least the Victorian era (if not before). Capote's major contribution to the genre is a certain bloodless style, which is fine as far as it goes, but doesn't do much of a service to the subject of bloody murder.

In fact, I think his Shawn-pleasing style, and a limited understanding of the less-limpid pools of reality, leaves him almost autistically incapable of rendering a believable account of the actual character of Dick and Perry, turning them from the bored. brutish thrill-seekers who killed the Clutters into the kind of sensitive hustlers who flitted through Capote's earlier short stories. I suppose that could be called some kind of literary achievement, but it sure ain't nonfiction, and considering that it mostly serves to obscure its subject rather than illuminate it, I can't consider it much good as fiction either.

Ann Rule is definitely a less literary writer---her prose is functional at its very best, and most of the time has a terrible, overheated breathlessness. But she seems to actually understand her subject, and want to convey what she understands to the reader, which makes her a far more valuable reporter, and ultimately writer, than the self-absorbed Capote. Her best book, The Stranger Beside Me, is never going to win any points for style, but it's a vastly more interesting, more insightful, and more worthwhile book than anything Capote ever tried.

Capote, on the other hand, is a pretty good movie.

Thomas @ Thu May 29 11:54:23 2008 EST

I enjoyed the first 2/3 of the book, but like you I didn't find it particularly astonishing. And the last third of it drags brutally.

The movie has grown on me. At first, I wasn't really impressed. Toward the end, and the more I think about it, the more impressive I think it becomes. When I first heard about it, the decision to make the movie about the author and not the crime seemed odd, but now it makes perfect sense.

That Fuzzy Bastard @ Sat May 31 16:59:43 2008 EST

The movie has the advantage of having some wonderful actors in it, which helps. Catherine Keener, as always, is perfection on a plate.

And yeah, the movie also profits by being about Capote. I never thought I'd say this, but I wonder if ICB would have been a better book if the author had been more of an acknowledged presence, since it would have let Capote write about a subject---himself---that he was genuinely interested in.

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