By Ralph F. Voss
The University of Alabama Press, 2011
$34.95, Hardcover; $14.99, eBook
Reviewed by Marianne Moates Weber
Just when you think nothing new could possibly be added to the volumes of literary criticism written about In Cold Blood, a book emerges that is as compelling as Capote’s original crime novel. The author, retired University of Alabama English professor Ralph Voss, brings a unique perspective to his subject: Truman Capote and the legacy of in cold blood.
Voss was in high school in Plainsville, Kansas, when the gruesome Clutter murders occurred more than fifty years ago, and like other Kansans, the horrific story became part of his history. He vividly recalls the time when murderers were on the loose and everyone in his small hometown was in fear for their lives. While the crime shocked a town, the event barely made the national news, except to the discriminating eye of a writer who was looking for a story to challenge a new style of writing he was contemplating—the nonfiction novel. Truman Capote spied a small newspaper article about the murders and felt that urge writers experience when the creative juices flow. Thus the seeds of In Cold Blood were born.
Capote, with the help of his friend, Nelle Harper Lee, traveled to Kansas to interview law enforcement, neighbors and friends of the Clutters, and eventually the murderers themselves. Capote developed a close personal relationship with the two men who committed the heinous crime. It would take more than a decade for justice to be served, however, and all the while Capote wrote, awaited outcome of the appeals, and delved deeper into alcohol and drugs. He and the murderers were like rams locked in a death brawl—the outcome could be none other than death.
To make Voss’ interpretation of the Clutter crime legacy all the more interesting, Voss highlights his research on Truman Capote and In Cold Blood with his personal perspective. The heinous crime destroyed the innocence in the nation’s heartland as portrayed in The Wizard of Oz. Like Capote, Voss knew both intuitively and professionally that there was much to say about creative process in investigative journalism, and Voss is as thorough in his explanation of the legacy as Capote is in writing In Cold Blood.
In reading Voss’ work, I found a story so compelling that it reads like a mystery novel. Fictive elements provide a strong sense of place, emotion, character development, realistic dialogue. The text is interspersed with black and white photographs and contains a plethora of chapter notes. Voss takes time to tell the story of Capote’s life, his Alabama roots, and the impact of his writing on the literary world. Chapters such as “The Myth of the Nonfiction Novel,” “The Gay Subtext of In Cold Blood,” and the “Legacy of Creative Influence” delve into the psychology of the man and the importance of his work. Although any reader of In Cold Blood is familiar with the story and its outcome, Voss artfully provides a fresh look at the investigative process and the elements that drove Capote to pursue the crime story. Voss’ book is a must read for the Capote aficionado. April 2012
Marianne Moates Weber is a freelance writer in Prattville, Ala., and is the author of Truman Capote’s Southern Years (UA Press).