Truman Capote was arguably one of the most famous gay men that ever lived. He was out and proud in the 1950’s and 60’s when very few were even out of the closet. A talented writer, Truman was the toast of the social scene in New York and was the “it” guest at social events – which made his choice to write about some mysterious murders in Holcombe, Kansas all the more odd. What started out as an article for the “New Yorker” magazine turned into more than five years of research and what some say is the best piece of non-fiction ever written. It has recently been in the news again thanks to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Capote in the recently released movie Capote.
“In Cold Blood” details the brutal and horrific murders of four members of the Clutter family in rural Kansas in late 1959. The small town was not ready for the media attention and national headlines that were to follow the murders. The book is a true account of the murders, the trial, the legal appeals and subsequent hangings of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. With impeccable detail, Capote was able to describe every aspect of the small town and eventually every detail of the murder. It reminds you that violence and senseless death are not recent developments, but that they have been around for decades. The book is able to humanize the killers while at the same time portraying them as the murderers they were. It was this ability to humanize Hickock and Smith that was quite controversial when the book premiered in the 1965. Meticulously researched and impeccably written, it haunts readers to this day.
Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” was the original true-crime drama, a first in the literary world at the time – a non-fiction book written with the eloquence and creative detail of a fiction masterpiece. It’s a masterpiece that has withstood the test of time being as captivating now as it was then. The new movie Capote, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, is based on Gerald Clark’s biography of Truman Capote and is a theatrical account of Capote’s obsession with the story and the murderers. Hoffman’s performance is already stirring Oscar buzz and truly is haunting in the way he seems to emulate Truman Capote down to the sing-song timbre of his voice. The movie offers some insight to Capote the man as opposed to the famous writer and social butterfly. It offers insight to the story and obsession that some say consumed Capote (“In Cold Blood” was his last successful book). The book and the movie are well worth your time.
“In Cold Blood”
by Truman Capote
Vintage, 368 pp., $14.00
United Artists and Sony Pictures