Saturday, April 8, 2023

1001 Books

I saw this book club, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, on social media and decided to join, even though I thought that at my age, I’d better start reading a lot faster!

But when I saw this month’s selection, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, I changed my mind - then changed it again, mostly because its members meet in person and not on Zoom.

 I read In Cold Blood back in the late Sixties, not long after it was published. I read it and never forgot it. 

It’s a story about two men who walked through the unlocked door of a farmhouse in western Kansas in the middle of the night on November 15, 1959, and brutally murdered an entire family, Herb and Bonnie Clutter, and their two teenage children, Kenyon and Nancy.

“Two worlds exist in this country," Capote said in the 2005 movie Capote. “The quiet conservative life, and the life of those two men. The underbelly. The criminally violent.” (Or as I would put it, the sane and the obscene.) “And those worlds converged that bloody night.”

To write the book, Capote and his friend Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, interviewed hundreds of people and took more than 8,000 pages of notes. The result was the first “nonfiction novel,” and an instant success.

However, although Capote finished the book in three years, he had to wait another three, (until the killers were hung) to release it.

While interviewing Perry Smith, one of the two killers, Capote discovered that both he and the killer had mothers who neglected and mistreated them.

“It’s like Perry and I grew up in the same house,” Capote told Lee, “and one day he went out the back door and I went out the front.” 

Or did he? 

Writing that book “changed my life,” he said. “It altered my view about almost everything.” 

It also interfered with his relationship with his partner, made him jealous of Lee whose book won the Pulitzer Prize, increased his intake of both alcohol and drugs, kept him from completing another book, and contributed to his death.

"If I have to leave here without understanding you,” Capote told the imprisoned Smith, who he both "fell in love with” and used to further his career, “the world will see you as a monster.” 

But, in trying to deny the monster in Smith, Capote, I believe, unleashed the monster inside himself.

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