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True-crime 101

May 19, 2010 - Deb Gau
It sounds like sacrilege for a journalist, but I've never read "In Cold Blood." In fact, after years of hearing people talk about what a work of true-crime art it is, and what it did to push the boundaries of journalistic and literary style, I've only just started reading a used copy I've picked up.

It's pretty good thus far, but I'm having trouble getting used to the writing style. It swings back and forth between novelistic prose — used whenever Truman Capote is describing something or recreating events and conversations between people — and something completely different. I'm not sure I can describe it better than that. All of a sudden in the middle of the novelistic stuff, people will just unload these page-long monologues. It doesn't sound like natural conversation or storytelling, but rather like someone very talkative has just been asked an interview question. If Capote weren't famous for supposedly relying on his memory in writing the book, I'd say he was simply transcribing whatever he had on his tape recorder.

I'm already lining up some post-Cold Blood reading to try and explain what I'm going through. Perhaps monologues are just part of the Truman Capote reading experience, and a sample of his fiction (which I've also never read, shame on me) would illustrate that. Or maybe it's just a side effect of the true-crime research process. To test the theory, I'll need to check out some good examples of that genre, too.


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