In Cold Blood is a romance of the ordinary, a narrative that proceeds from the premise that truth is more compelling than fiction. Capote shows the Clutters to be an exemplary American family—devout Methodists, members of the 4-H Club, happy, productive citizens. He immerses his readers in their quotidian world by crowding his text with details—facts about what Herbert has for breakfast, the configuration of the house, the inventory of crops. Herbert is widely and justifiably respected as an industrious and honest man, and his pretty daughter Nancy would seem to be the perfect high school sweetheart. Perhaps the only element belying the Clutters’ unexceptional wholesomeness is the unaccountable depression from which Herbert’s wife, Bonnie, has suffered over the years.
Holcomb and the Clutters are a challenge to the fanciful and flamboyant Capote, who became famous as the author of Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) and who had become the pet of high society. Any writer must confront the impossibility of translating experience into language, but Capote’s task was compounded by how alien his banal raw materials seemed to his worldly, baroque sensibility. In Cold Blood is an inevitably flawed exercise in self-effacement. Its title refers as much to the novelist’s efforts at being a taxidermist of reality as to the carnage of the Clutters’ murder. “Most of my ideas for...
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