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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Truman Capote

Image credit: PBS

Truman Capote is probably best known (certainly by me) for writing the book Breakfast at Tiffany's, on which the movie is also based. However, Capote wrote more than a book about a high-class hooker: he also wrote In Cold Blood, a "nonfiction novel" that revolutionized the true crime genre and made it financially viable, popular and more interesting to the public.

In Cold Blood tells the story of the Clutter family, murdered in the middle of the night in a small rural town in Kansas. Capote follows the story from a background on the Clutters to the eventual discovery and execution of the killers.

What results is a mostly-true horror story of the motives, mistakes and history behind the Clutter murders. Capote's portrayal of the Clutter family is as sensitive as his portrayal of the two men who carried out the gruesome crime, and their disappointment with a robbery gone wrong.

Although Capote received some criticism for fudging the facts in In Cold Blood, a majority of the story is true. Interviews with relatives and neighbors of the Clutter family and the murderers themselves helped Capote paint a picture of a murder and a story that won't be forgotten, once read.

Capote himself was a fascinating person. He was born in 1924, raised by his elderly aunts and cousins, and eventually moved to New York. He was openly homosexual in a time when it was much less acceptable to be that open, but despite that and despite complaints about his frivolous and sometimes mean-spirited behavior, he became very popular among the New York elite for a time.

Although In Cold Blood was Capote's most famous nonfiction book, he did do other works in the genre, including one called Answered Prayers, which lost him many of his friends and his social standing because of the details it revealed about many people and the scandal it caused.

Capote died in 1984.

For more information, check out the PBS article about him -which I used as a resource for this piece -and this article in Salon.

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