IN COLD BLOOD: Superb essay by Amy Standen in Salon on Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. For anybody who hasn’t read the book, it’s an excellent introduction to both its story, and Capote’s then-novel (pun definitely intended) new journalism techniques to capture it.
Capote was a good listener. It’s what earned him the confidence of the society ladies in Greenwich, Conn., and Manhattan, and it’s what made him a good reporter. His accounts of Smith’s small, paradoxical kindnesses to the doomed Clutters, like when he places a pillow under Kenyon’s head before putting a gun to his temple, are a hundred times more effective in describing the tumult of emotions in a criminal’s mind than an expert’s analysis could ever have been.
Smith’s divided conscience, what allows him to stop Hickock from raping Nancy Clutter, then go on to kill her anyway, and then, later, his infamous recollection of that night, “I really admired Mr. Clutter, right up until the moment I slit his throat,” could be no starker from any mouth but Smith’s own.
In Cold Blood was the peak of Capote’s career–ego run amok, professional suicide, and dissipation would follow in the decade to come (as George Plimpton’s exceptionally well edited collection of interviews from Capote’s friends and associates explain), but to read In Cold Blood is to see a writer truly live up to the hype that surrounded him.