pyrajane’s review #36: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Cold BloodBook groups are the best because not only do you get to pick books that have been on your To Be Read list since forever, but you also get to read books that you wouldn’t have otherwise picked up on your own.  In Cold Blood is the latter.  It’s one of those books that I’ve probably thought “Huh.  I should read that some day.”  Happily, a book group member had access to a ton of copies, so here we are.

I had very little background knowledge of this story.  I know the book itself is considered a great work and is often found on Books You Must Read list.  It also helped create a genre of fictionalized journalism where Capote took nonfiction and added in the details.  We don’t know what really happened, but Capote interviewed people and filled in the blanks with his own details.  This, of course, bothers some people who think it creates fiction.  Once you muddy the waters, it’s no longer a truthful account.

In November 1959 in a town in Kansas, four members of the Cutter family were murdered.  This was a place where things like this don’t happen.  There was no motive, no reason for the family to have been targeted and it looked like whoever had done it was going to get away with it.

Read more about the murder, the men who committed it, and Capote’s research and nonfiction fiction.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #61: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold BloodI had, of course, heard of In Cold Blood (1966) by Truman Capote, and I think I’ve seen at least parts of Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Despite all this, reading an entire book on a series of grisly murders never really appealed to me. It wasn’t until I saw In Cold Blood up at the top of a list of favorite non-fiction books on Goodreads, a list that was full of other books that I’d read and loved, that I figured I should see what I’ve been missing.

In Cold Blood tells the true and detailed story of two men who met in jail, got out on parole, and killed a family (the parents and two younger teenagers) at a rural farm in a small town in Kansas. Capote hits all sides of this crime. You learn all about the victims, the murderers, the hunt for the two men after the fact, the killers’ run from the law, the trial, their ultimate punishment, and how all of this affected the people living in Holcomb, Kansas.


ElCicco #CBR5 Review #21: The Grass Harp by Truman Capote


This edition of The Grass Harp includes  A Tree of Night and other short stories. The stories originally came out around 1950. The Grass Harp is the best known and, in my opinion, the best written, most complete story. It’s a coming of age story told from the point of view of an orphaned boy, Collin Fenwick, who lives with his two aunts. His is a reflection on a golden time from age of 12 to 16 and his love for his aunt Dolly. Dolly adores the color pink, sweet treats and is a loving and simple soul. She is older than Verena, but Verena is head of the household and has a reputation in town for being tough in business and tight with money. Dolly and Catherine, the maid who has been with the sisters since their youth, are close friends, and with Catherine’s and Collin’s assistance, Dolly concocts a secret formula for dropsy that she sells to local clients. The trouble begins when Verena sees the profitability of this venture and tries to build it into a genuine business. Dolly, Catherine and Collin run away from home and live in a treehouse in the woods for a short time, attracting attention and support from some other locals but ultimately leading to a showdown with Verena and local law enforcement. It’s a poignant reflection on family, loss, love and growing up.

Character development in The Grass Harp is more complete than in the other stories. In 100 pages, you get fairly well developed background on the main characters plus a host of delightful and fascinating supporting characters including the retired judge Charlie Cool who joins them in the treehouse, the sheriff and his cohort, and a traveling family of preachers. The stories in  A Tree of Night, on the other hand, lack this development and are much darker than The Grass Harp. They are set in the South or New York. Some provide a sort of slice of southern life, with some humor but also showing eccentricities and a darker side of small town life. Some are sad reflections on loneliness and depression, particularly the New York stories. Every story involves an intruder of sorts, someone unknown who insinuates him or herself into the main character’s life, usually with negative consequences. Some of the intruders are children and they can be downright sinister. I found these stories interesting but it seemed they ended rather abruptly and really aren’t of the same caliber as The Grass Harp.

Capote’s writing is arresting in all of the stories and that is what makes them so hard to put down and worth picking up. Character assessments are especially incisive. Capote describes Verena’s business acumen: “… money was like a wildcat whose trail she stalked with a trained hunter’s muffled step and an eye for every broken twig.” The local barber/town gossip Amos Legrand:  “A little monkeyman who had to stand on a box to cut your hair, he was agitated and chattery as a pair of castanets.” Capote also makes some interesting philosophical statements in his stories, such as “…dreams are the mind of the soul and the secret truth about us…” from Master Misery; and “…if you are not admired no one will take the trouble to disapprove…” from Children on Their Birthdays. Some of the loveliest prose can be found in The Grass Harp. “Below the hill grows a field of high Indian grass that changes color with the seasons: go to see it in the fall, late September, when scarlet shadows like firelight breeze over it and the autumn winds strum on its dry leaves sighing human music, a harp of voices.”

Reading The Grass Harp and Capote’s other short stories was a most pleasurable literary experience and has made me want to spend more time with Southern literature. The mix of humor and nostalgia with social critique and a certain melancholy is a powerful and arresting combination in the hands of masters like Capote, Flannery O’Connor and Harper Lee.