Book Report: In Cold Blood

After we went to see Capote a couple of months ago, I was curious to pick up In Cold Blood. Up until then, I had little inclination to read it. The film focused on Truman Capote’s process in writing it, and his actual involvement in the outcome of the events he was writing about (e.g. going so far as to get the killers legal help). So I expected at least a little mention of himself in the book. Not so. There is one mention of “a journalist” who I suspect was actually Capote, and one other mention of “a woman journalist” who I suspect was Harper Lee. And that was it.

So I think the film did do some service in bringing his actual implication to light. But by the same token, I think the film also falls into much the same trap. It portrays everything in it as a simple fact. Not only does it provide no insight into the research it took to make it, it simply treats its own varnished surface as if it was reality, not a reenactment at all. (Because of this, I now sort of want to read Capote, the book upon which the film was based, though I think I may be all caput on Capote for the moment.)

Anyway, such varnish is the substance of In Cold Blood. True, it is clearly the product of painstaking research, done with a great deal of sympathy. In my favorite moments, Capote completely throws himself into minor or passing characters. They’re ordinary people who don’t usually get interviewed or researched, and turn out to be fascinating on examination. But, you never get that they were interviewed or researched. You just get the finished product, perfectly staged so that you never see back into the wings.

I know that’s part of the point; he did call it a non-fiction novel. But it  somehow doesn’t sit quite so well with me. I’ve thought about it since, and I haven’t been able to pinpoint why. On one hand, I have to admit that I can’t imagine it being so compelling if it was straight non-fiction. I’ve tried to read Studs Terkel before, because I was intrigued with the idea of someone just interviewing everyday people and getting their stories down in what feels like their own language. But somehow I never manage to get very far; part of me finds the concept interesting and the execution pretty faultless, yet the finished product fails to hold my interest. On the other hand, I’ve long thought that simple fabrication doesn’t make for compelling fiction. So I’m on board with the idea of making a novel out of real people and real events. But somehow it feels wrong that there is no warning label with that omniscient voice.

Nonetheless, it was a terrific and horrible story, and it’s definitely worth the read. And it’s another case of Truman Capote spurring me on to think heavily about the mystery of the real and the fake.

Saturday night’s all right for crashin’

Traffic light pole, on sidewalkSo, it was about 12:45 last night, Terri had already turned in, and I was just heading upstairs, when I heard this terrible crashing outside the house. I ran downstairs and looked out through the front door, and saw a plain white Suburban revving and going forward and backward trying to get out of the across-the-street neighbors’ front yard (this is Somerville: nobody’s front yard is that big). He managed to get out and pealed up the street (the wrong way). A woman came out of the house and looked over and said “Oh, my God, my car!” so I figured I should go out and let her know that I at least saw the car, even if I was at a bad angle to get the license.

When I got outside, I could see that not only had this guy crashed into the car in our neighbor’s driveway, he had taken also taken out a traffic light pole, two USPS mailboxes, all their hedges, part of their porch railing, and had pushed their parked car through the other neighbor’s
fence.

Two police cruisers were on the scene in about a minute, and barely stopped to get what we saw. I guess they figured they didn’t need to stay for all the details, since if they acted fast, they could probably catch up to the guy. After meeting some of the neighbors who had come out of their houses, and learning that some other people got a much better view of what happened than I did, I went back in and told everyone to let me know if they needed me for the police report. It was cold, and I figured Terri was wondering what the heck was going on.

An officer buzzed in a few minutes, and I told him what I saw, so I went back out to see if there was any news, and indeed, the guy had been caught on College Ave, though the police declined to tell us any more.

Neighbors' smashed carBig excitement for a Saturday night! Usually the best we get is just drunk Tufts students whooping it up or using our hedges as a cupholder.

The snapshots are from this morning, and the mailboxes were cleared away.