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Sunday, February 18, 2024

Truman Capote Was Not a True Crime Writer

     In a somewhat critical New Yorker article on the true crime genre (August 19, 1996) Alex Ross, regarding the history of nonfiction crime writing wrote: " 'True crime' is the name that has attached itself to journalistic and literary accounts of exceptional human ghastliness. The term became a standard publishing category in the 1980s, distinct from long-standing genres of mystery and crime literature.The name is new, the genre is not. Readers have been devouring hastily printed accounts of mayhem and disaster since the invention of the popular press."

     Writing about murder and mayhem--interviewing victims' loved ones and the people who commit these brutal crimes--is not for everyone. Living day to day with violent death and human suffering can take its toll on a writer. Truman Capote, while writing his 1966 true crime masterpiece, In Cold Blood, the story of the 1959 murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, said that the subject matter "leaves me increasingly limp and numb and, well, horrified--I have such awful dreams every night. I don't know how I could ever have felt so callous and objective as I did in the beginning." (In Capote: A Biography (1988) by Gerald Clarke)

     It should be noted that Capote was a literary novelist and not a true crime writer. He knew very little about criminal investigation, policing, forensic science, criminology, criminal law, the trial process, or corrections. And this lack of knowledge in these fields shows in his novelistic account of the Clutter family murders. The fact that his literary involvement in the Clutter case affected him the way it did primarily had to do with his love affair with one of the murderers and the fact he was an emotional wreck to begin with.

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