In Cold Blood is one of my favorite books, but I tend to forget that — as much as I love nonfiction, I always think of fiction first when somebody asks me about my favorites. Little Truman’s slender book gets crushed beneath Middlemarch and Pride and Prejudice. I reread In Cold Blood this summer for the workshop I attended at the Mailer Writers Colony, though, and that reread reminded me just how profoundly Capote’s book shaped the true-crime narrative. Every crappy cable show about cold cases owes a huge debt to In Cold Blood. The structure dominates: the teaser in which you see the victims alive, doomed, going about their final day of life unknowing; the first introduction to the killer(s); the dread. What’s amazing is how little of Capote you see in the narrative, how transparent he managed to make it appear. I reread the book right after reading Tom Wolfe’s Hooking Up, which, with a few exceptions, I despised, largely because of Wolfe’s intrusive, irritating presence. (And his damn exclamation mark addiction.) Of course the transparency is a fiction, and the work itself is a fiction. But it’s so beautifully done, so clean and angular.
It’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to read that clean angular book and see in its mirrored surface the faces of people you knew. So maybe it’s not a surprise that Bob Rupp never read the book, and maybe you can’t blame him. But I do disagree that Capote didn’t do “the Clutter family justice,” as Rupp says, though of course I don’t disagree with his perfect right to believe that. Capote’s skill makes the Clutter family live for me. I think that’s a kind of justice.