In Cold Blood
With the recent success of Capote, very few are still unaware of the facts surrounding In Cold Blood, and yet, up until last week, I was. In Cold Blood has entered my list of books to read, come off, and gone on again ad nauseum. Finally, I could no longer ignore the fact that this is one of those books that must be consumed if one wishes to consider herself well-read.
While reading it, I was surprised my compulsion to read more and more, even after I felt I could no longer do so, especially considering the outcome was already generally known. I was also surprised by my level of sympathy for Perry Smith, one of the murderers. Even though he is apparently the perpetrator of all of the murders, reading about his background made his anti-social behavior pitiable. The other murderer, Dick Hickock, the "less violent" of the two, inspired no such pity in me. Of course, the greatest pathos is to be found in the re-enactment of the Clutters' last day on earth. They worked, laughed, and planned for tomorrow, unaware of the fate that would befall them. So too do we all.
The only drawback to the book is its lack of pictures, and this probably has more to do with my edition than with the book itself. After reading Capote's meticulous descriptions of the victims and their murderers, who doesn't want to see what they looked like in life? I often had to interrupt my reading to Google various names. There are some great sites which have all sorts of pictures, including the family, their home, the surrounding area, and, of course, the murderers themselves. It was interesting to see just how accurate Capote's descriptions are. Hickock is as ugly as he is described. But what beauty in Smith's face--just like a movie star's.
The beauty of this vicious man leads me to what will be--and what should have been from the beginning--a feature of my reviews: the Illumination Factor. It is my belief, as I have written in my profile, that good literature enables one to lead a better life. Under my profile, I have added the words of James Salter (whose novel Light Years I found utterly worthless, except that it yielded my favorite literature quote of all time), who has expressed this idea much better than I could hope to. At any rate, I have realized that my reviews should include an explanation of just how a book will enable one to live better, if at all. Sometimes I have done this better than others, but from now on I will devote a specific section to this idea.
The Illumination Factor of In Cold Blood is, not surprisingly, high. Consider Perry Smith: an intelligent, gifted, artistic man. Had a few circumstances--even just one--been different in his life, there is no telling how different he might have been. In Cold Blood stands as a reminder to keep in mind the potential every life has to go awry. Even now, sitting here in my nice home, with my children (three dogs) underfoot, how quickly it could be taken away, how easily it might never have been. Had I not taken school so seriously, had I not lost certain bad influences in my life... How true are the words, "There but for the grace of God go I." The book also reminds one to never become complacent with one's life: you could go in years, or in hours. That, however, I try to always remember; more important for me was to never take my safety for granted. Just because one lives in rural Kansas (or suburban Pennsylvania) does not mean safety is any more assured than in New York City.
In a nutshell: a classic that deserves the label. As many have noted, In Cold Blood's greatness lies not in its story, as there are unfortunately many murderers and their victims, but in its telling. Truly enthralling.
Bibliolatry Scale: 5.5 out of 6 stars