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My Lukewarm Response to In Cold Blood

by Truman Capote

You will hear almost nary a word of complaint about the MFA program I’m in. I’m happy with it. My writing has improved. I’ve made good friends. And I even forgive Aaron Shurin for making us read W.G. Sebald. But I need to gripe.

Don’t get me wrong: In Cold Blood is a nonfiction classic. I know this because it’s hammered into me every semester in the MFA program. The Father of our Genre. A Very Important Book, for which Capote worked Very, Very Hard, arguably even telling the truth.

But this is either the third or fourth time I’ve studied In Cold Blood for a class, and I’m developing severe reaction-formation just from glancing at its overly familiar paperback cover. Flaws in what is undeniably an Important Book in the Creative Nonfiction Canon are begin to make my left eye twitch whenever I open the book, which is becoming increasingly difficult to do.

I’m weary of the way Capote rushes through the Clutters’ deaths, making them seem cartoonish and trivial, as if he just can’t wait to get to his Thelma and Louise. I’m tired of Capote fawning over Perry, a bad guy with creepy little feet. Some of the town characters are so mawkishly overdrawn they belong on Gilligan’s Island, not a serious enquiry into a crime. And the book doesn’t know how to end.

Fortunately the second class discussion on this book is only an hour long, because Kate Braverman is reading at USF tonight, and next week we talk about Stop-Time, which I adored. I’ll be good. I will cheerfully discuss Capote in class, and I will never have to do this again, because someday, when I am teaching, I will go to great lengths not to assign In Cold Blood, and my students will complain bitterly about the books I make them read.

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