Time to Settle Accounts
January 26, 2011: And in the end.
I first spotted In Cold Blood on Ric’s shelf last April, just before I took the train to Phoenix. I knew Truman Capote from my mother’s love of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and then as a name I’d picked up in the history of journalism and non-fiction narrative, and finally from the 2005 film with Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I loved that picture’s depiction of Capote and his work; as Ebert wrote: “The film… focuses on the way a writer works on a story and the way the story works on him.”
In Cold Blood worked quickly on me. I tend to read a few books of different natures simultaneously; Capote’s recounting of Perry Smith and Richard Hickcock, of the multi-angled play-by-play of their infamous home invasion, the Clutter family’s final days, the K.B.I.’s pursuit, the contentious trial, and the doomed pair’s stay in Death Row, satisfied both my journalism and literature needs.
I was so impressed by In Cold Blood that – in light of not being able to mark Ric’s book – I started a quote book for this book alone. I recorded the first and final sentence of each section, any other sentence or word choice that struck me, and all vocabulary builders, which I would later add to my ongoing “new words” list.
During the summer, it was my Chicago train book, on the El or the Metra. I read it in Papa’s chair and on the blue couch. I read it on Rob’s hammock out back, fell asleep in the hammock for the night, woke up, read with the sun, and did the same the following night. I would read a few chapters with no pen, and then go back with my quote book and do my work. It was wonderful.
But conducting such a thorough close-read with the added space and weight of a notebook proved irksome. My reading of Capote’s book slowed further when I grabbed a copy of David Simon’s Homicide and was swept up in a year’s worth of terrific newspaper writing and Wire influences.
I came back hard to In Cold Blood a week ago, re-read the end of Part III, and then bulldozed Part IV, “The Corner,” to finish the book. I was gripped to the end, in love with Capote’s endless reserves of information and new layers of story; Part IV gives us short stories on the death row inmates sharing quarters with our boys.
In a book filled with beautiful description, Capote paints the final thematic stroke in this quick exchange, just prior to the hanging of Smith and, indeed, the end of the story. I liked it very much. I think you will too.
While waiting for the second execution, a reporter and a guard conversed. The reporter said, “This your first hanging?”
“I seen Lee Andrews.”
“This here’s my first.”
“Yeah. How’d you like it?”
The reporter pursed his lips. “Nobody in our office wanted the assignment. Me neither. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Just like jumping off a diving board. Only with a rope around your neck.”
“They don’t feel nothing. Drop, snap, and that’s it. They don’t feel nothing.”
“Are you sure? I was standing right close. I could hear him gasping for breath.”
“Uh-huh, but he don’t feel nothing. Wouldn’t be humane if he did.”
“Well. And I suppose they feed them a lot of pills. Sedatives.”
“Hell, no. Against the rules. Here comes Smith.”
“Gosh, I didn’t know he was such a shrimp.”
“Yeah, he’s little. But so is a tarantula.”
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