Four Gunshot Blasts

“Four gunshot blasts that, all told, ended six human lives…”


This is not the opening of my favorite book.  It’s not even the opening of a book, really.  It’s the last sentence in the first chapter of In Cold Blood, which is one of the books I used to teach.

It is so telling, that sentence.  Everything that happens in the book, the reader learns right there, in that sentence.  Moreover, though, the author’s bias steeps into his own story here…  I love Truman Capote.  I find him fascinating.  Ever since I first met him, in the 8th grade, as the character “Dill” in To Kill a Mockingbird… or… didn’t you know that?  Truman Capote and Harper Lee are childhood best friends.  He helped her research and write To Kill a Mockingbird (some argue the first pages of it are Capote’s writing–I may agree) and she aided him in his research of In Cold Blood.

That precocious, inquisitive little run away in To Kill a Mockingbird… he grew into a fabulous writer.  Perhaps his most famous work is Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but it comes nowhere near rivaling In Cold Blood in terms of depth, bredth, or impact on society.  With In Cold Blood, Capote invented a new genre of writing… though I don’t think he started out intending to.  He created the “nonfiction novel.”  A nonfiction story that reads like fiction.  Modern examples include the writing of Erik Larson– Devil in the White City, and In the Garden of Beasts. 

I digress.

That line “Four gunshot blasts that, all told, ended six human lives.”   I remember the first time I read it. Wow.  I had no idea how the story would unfold, only that the story was about the brutal murders of a helpless family of four… six must include the killers.  How interesting that the author includes their deaths…

But then, when I first read those words, I had no idea the complexities Capote had discovered regarding the relationship of those murderers.  Going so far as to reference a psychologist’s case study of them. In short: neither could have committed murder independently.  Together, their personalities meshed, creating a third, murderous personality.  It was a senseless slaying.  They went to the Clutter’s home seeking money.  They found none.  So they murdered the entire family. What is there to be sympathetic about?  And yet, sympathy Capote did find.

It nearly ruined him.  Capote could not publish his book until the sentencing was carried out for the murderers.  And yet… Capote funded their defense. After In Cold Blood published, Capote reached the height of fame.  And he never finished another book… he also struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse.

My theory?  He fell in love with one of the murderers.  He felt compassion for a murderer whom he saw as a victim.  Fascinating.  Truly fascinating.  When Capote could not save Perry from the Death Penalty…  he lost himself as well.  Everyone wonders why Harper Lee never wrote another book?  Well.  What if she never wrote a book to begin with?


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