Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Best Nonfiction Novel

I couldn't bear to leave Eat, Pray, Love at the top of my literature blog for long, so I will move on to my favorite nonfiction narrative - In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.  I absolutely loved this book.  I don't know if I've ever been so truly entranced in my reading.  I inhaled over 250 pages of it in one sitting.  In a way, it's like watching a train wreck - you don't really want to be watching it, but you cannot look away.

Capote designed this book masterfully.  In fact, the design is so perfect, so meticulous, that I could actually feel it.  He dedicated six years of his life to this book.  Before I dig in too much further, I'll give you some background on the book in case you're not familiar with it.  In Cold Blood is a true account of a case of multiple homicide.  On November 15, 1959, a modest country man in Kansas was brutally murdered along with his wife, son, and daughter.  On the surface, there was absolutely no explanation for the crime, no trace of the murderers, and no clues to get these answers.  Eventually, Dick Hickock and Perry Edward were tracked down and confessed to the crime.  Capote noticed an article about this incident in the newspaper, and he decided to go to Kansas to find out more.  Eventually, this turned into an intense, six-year process of interviewing everyone involved, including the murderers themselves.  By the end of Hickock's life in particular, Capote was the only person continuing to visit him in prison.

There's an overwhelming and undeniable sense of foreboding in the first section of this book.  In fact, this section is titled "The Last to See Them Alive."  I knew the murders were coming, but I turned the pages reluctantly, fearing that I was bringing on their inevitable deaths by moving forward.  Yet there was not enough resistance in me to stop reading.  The more Capote traced the thoughts and actions of the killers, the more I was captivated.  You may be detecting a theme in the kind of stories that grab me.  Once again, this story primarily spotlights the criminals.  However, Capote is not overly empathetic to them.  Somehow, he achieved a magnificent and delicate balance; he could not risk being too understanding of the killers nor could he be too condemning.  In my reading, I found myself coming to an understanding of their thoughts in this horrific crime, but I never came close to justifying their actions.  They did wrong; Capote does not deny or hide that.  Yet they are still people and not animals - and that is the intimate truth in this story!  I could not stop reading it, and yet I was hardly aware that I was reading.  I could see everything as it happened.  I really cannot think of a better phrase than this book "grabbed me."  It hooked me, pulled me, drew me, and I had no idea it would.

In general, I doubt that I will mention movies in this blog, although I am quite a fan of film.  However, for this story, I highly recommend you watch the movie Capote starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.  It is a fantastic companion to the book because it tells the story of Capote's process in writing it.  That is absolutely a story of its own.  I am fascinated - dumbfounded! - that Capote invested so much time and emotion in the creation of this nonfiction piece.  Inevitably, he grew to become somehow attached to the criminals, and yet he too could never get their awful crime out of his mind.  If you have this knowledge before you read the book, I think that it illuminates some interesting details of the story.  For example, Capote mentions "a journalist" at the end who becomes Hickock's only companion.  With some insight, you will realize that he is talking about himself.  The film is incredible, and Hoffman's acting in it is phenomenal. 

This book is totally unique and absolutely worth your time.  I guarantee you will never read anything else like it.  It is not for the light of heart; it can be quite dark.  But there is so much depth, intensity, and truth in the story.  I challenge anyone to find a better nonfiction novel, and it's one of my favorite classics of all time.


calpoet said...

Well done. "In Cold Blood" is the granddaddy of all "non-fiction novels," although Capote's invention of that term was a great PR ploy. The only nonfiction novel that comes close is Norman Mailer's "The Executioner's Song," a book I'd highly recommend if you haven't read it. And check out my own book blog at

aebither said...

I will definitely add that to my list. If it even comes close to "In Cold Blood," it must be good. And I'll also be sure to check out your site!

Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc. said...

Really great concept for a blog. Excited to see a 'classical' reviewer out there. Keep strong and we will help spread the word of your blog!!

aebither said...

Thanks so much! I just checked out your website and love it. I'm looking forward to keeping up with you guys!