Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

In Cold Blood

But the gallows itself, with its two pale nooses attached to a crossbeam, was imposing enough; and so, in an unexpected style, was the hangman, who cast a long shadow from his perch on the platform at the top of the wooden instrument's thirteen steps. The hangman, an anonymous, leathery gentleman who had been imported from Missouri for the event, for which he was paid six hundred dollars, was attired in an aged double-breasted pin-striped suit overly commodious for the narrow figure inside it--the coat came nearly to his knees; and on his head he wore a cowboy hat which, when first bought, had perhaps been bright green, but was now a weathered, sweat stained oddity.

--In Cold Blood, Truman Capote.

It's the six hundred dollars of that description that really chills me.

Anyhow, as you might guess, I just finished Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, and it was, I thought, quite magnificent. It has a middle section, where Perry Smith, one of the killers, is reading old letters that is tedious, but otherwise there's not a moment in the book where Capote doesn't hold your attention. What is most interesting about the book, however, is that for the most part, you think Capote is giving you an even handed, by the moment reconstruction of the murder of a family and what happens to the two killers after. He's true gift in the book is that he doesn't judge anyone involved: he never absolves Smith and Hickock for the killings, but at the same time, he doesn't take an easy option of portraying them as evil men who deserved to be hanged. Rather, the pair are damaged, both physically and mentally, and are side products of the environment that they have been born into. They are not the only products, Capote is quick to point out, using Smith's sister and Hickock's brother and family to show how people who grew up and existed in the same environments did not end up killing a family. Yet still, Capote walks an oddly sympathetic line for the pair, which at the same time, never says that they are not responsible and that they are not guilty.

It is, really, not until the last section, 'the Corner', so named because it is what inmates had nicknamed the gallows, that Capote's point of the novel begins to shape, and you see that what he is condemning is not the deaths of the family, not the killers, and not anyone else involved, but rather that he has, slowly and across three hundred pages, condemned executions.

Fascinating book.
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