“Nobody ever comes to see him except you,’ he said, nodding at the journalist, who was equally well acquainted with Smith as he was with Hickock.” (In Cold Blood by Truman Capote)
These days, there is almost a pathological need to insert ourselves, as authors, into narrative non-fiction. We were there. We read it. We did it. We interviewed whomever, we saw whatever. So we should be in the story, right? Capote, despite his true emotional involvement in the Clutter case, refers to himself only once as ‘the journalist’ (see above). Nothing, absolutely nothing, comes between the reader and the content. There is no ego, no author, no imposed emotions. Just those involved in the case speaking for themselves, in their own words.
Capote doesn’t even take liberty with the paragraphs he must himself compose. The writing is clear; precisely configured not to distract the reader from the content. It is a story laid bare and stark before the reader, and it is all the more haunting and poignant for what it lacks. I can’t help but feel, after reading this pristine example, that all of the ‘work’ authors have done improving the narrative non-fiction genre in the past 50 years has been for naught. Instead of adding things, adding ourselves, adding emotions, maybe we should try taking them away again.
Buy – Borrow – TBR – Avoid
Ending: appropriately unhopeful
Incidental Learning: The Clutter Case, Mid-century Kansas, psychology of the criminal mind
Further Reading: Other Capote. Modern narrative non-fiction (such of the much-lauded ‘Immortal Life of Henriette Lacks”) will only disappoint for its lack of cleanliness and restraint.