What made it such a compelling read? Partially, of course, Capote's writing keeps the reader involved but I think the main driving force behind this book is the fact that it is real. This happened - the facts are all real (although there is some controversy about the accuracy of Capote's reporting on some details). Capote read about these killings in the paper and immediately packed up his suitcase and went out to Holcomb, West Kansas to cover this story. This Guardian Books article looks at this case which happened fifty years ago this month - it's a cracking read, so I recommend you check it out.
Image credit: Here
The article got me thinking though. It mentions that although some townspeople were happy with the book and its epic success (millions of copies sold and four movies made), there were plenty that were not. As a result of the popularity of the book and it's movie spinoffs, there has been and will undoubtedly continue to be a steady stream of people from all over the world coming through to see the place where it all happened. Bobby (now Bob) Rupp, the then-sixteen year old sweetheart of Nancy Clutter, now 66 year old father of four, grandfather of eight, stated his displeasure with the books and movies, which incidentally he has never read nor watched and never will, as he felt that this attention has made people only focus on the fact of the Clutters' bloody demise rather than on what they achieved as people during their lives.
This and the ethically thorny issue of profiting from re-telling someone else's misery are commonly raised when literature deals with tragedy and disaster. Even though I haven't even started writing it yet, I have come across this in my thesis about post 9/11 literature. Some people have reacted angrily to those who wish to portray the events of that day through any media - be it literature, in films, through photography... And this is understandable. For those suffering the loss of someone, their grief is a very personal experience and any intrusion into the sacred space of the memory of their loved one be it direct or indirect is intolerable. However, for events such as 9/11, there is another grief at work: public grief. This grief is predicated on not personal loss but societal loss, the collective trauma of seeing, time and time again, from various angles the planes flying into the towers and their subsequent collapse, knowing we were watching people lose their lives. There's also the grief for the loss of a sense of security and loss of stability.
To work through a collective trauma it seems that representations of the event are necessary, but that doesn't mean that those who feel intruded upon are likely to be any more understanding. It seems to me to be a necessary evil, that these events must be memorialised and entrenched into our history through the written word and film. Because, as painful as it is that these things happened and though we may wish we could, we cannot and should not forget them.
I have to wonder about In Cold Blood, though. Was it necessary to have this gruesome murder written so definitively into America's history?
What are your thoughts on this? What do you think of representations of human tragedy and disaster? Historically and socially necessary or ethically and morally questionable?