Truman Capote was an iconic American writer of many genres. Reading his short stories, his fiction and his non-fiction causes me to marvel at his diversity and his ability to engage the reader on so many different levels.
“A Christmas Memory” is a short story about his life as a child and his experience one Christmas with a much older cousin, a woman with developmental disabilities. Capote’s friendship with her was an enduring one, and their innocence is captured flawlessly in this autobiographical recollection of Truman Capote’s boyhood in rural Alabama. This was my introduction to Truman Capote.
I was fascinated by Capote and his writing, which led me to next read “In Cold Blood.” This groundbreaking novel, the first of the true-crime genre, turned my world upside down. The writing was so beautiful and transcended traditional prose. The content was shocking, but as a young college student it did not affect me in the way it would many years later when I re-read the novel.
Capote recounts the events that occurred on and around November 15, 1959 in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas. With no apparent motive for the crime, four family members were murdered in their home. Capote reconstructs the crime, the investigation, the capture of the murderers, the trial and the execution.
Even though I already knew the outcome of the crime, I could not help but be swept up in the story. It shocked me, it mesmerized me, it made my gut clench. The characters are real men with seemingly no moral compass. They are so depraved and lacking in compassion that I had no trouble disliking the murderers instantly.
But Capote spent five years researching this crime. He met with the men who committed the crime. He interviewed them, and became involved with them, creating a sort of friendship.
While the verdict is cut and dried, and you know without a doubt that these men are guilty, the way that Capote writes their story almost makes the reader sympathize with them on some unfathomable level. Capote claimed to have written this with an unbiased perspective, but it is obvious on each page that he had a personal connection to the characters in this story.
Immediately after reading the novel, I went to the internet to do research about the crime. Every aspect of the story, the characters and the setting had penetrated my psyche.
While the story is disturbing, the prose is decidedly poetic. There is no profanity to speak of, and while the violence is shocking, it is in no way gratuitous.
Capote is an American writer who transcended the typical genres of American fiction. He created the new genre of non-fiction novel which others have attempted to replicate numerous times, with much less success.
This book changed the way I look at literature—fiction and non-fiction—as well as how I perceive crime in this world of ever-deteriorating morals.
Don’t be afraid to try Capote’s work. Start with his short stories. Once you read his lyrical prose, you will want to read every word he has ever written.