non fiction, Review, true crime

Review – In Cold Blood

I am so on the fence about this book that my pants are ripped.

For those unfamiliar with Truman Capote’s classic true crime novel, ‘In Cold Blood’ covers the case of the Clutter Family Murders. Herb Clutter, the patriarch of the family, was a well off farmer in western Kansas. In 1959, he along with his wife and two youngest children were murdered in the middle of the morning in their home by two ex-convicts. The novel starts from the morning before the murders and chronicles through to the deaths of the murderers for their crimes.

‘In Cold Blood’ is arguably Capote’s most famous work. First published in 1966, it’s still one of the best selling true crime novels. He worked, researching and interviewing, on the novel for four years (with aid of Harper Lee, author of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’) and the work obviously shows. Capote goes where many true crime novelists are not even capable of going – having interviewed both murderers in their jail cells after their convictions. However, while the novel is widely praised and still held in high regard as bringing true crime to the mainstream masses, drama inevitably followed. Capote’s claims that the entire novel was “immaculately factual” began to break down as many of the locals portrayed in the novel admitted that they were mischaracterized, misquoted, or a combination of the two. Whole sections of the book were brought into question as being made up by Capote to suit his narrative, as timelines of the book did not match with case files.

I read this novel for my “Summer Reading List” challenge, where I’m trying to read books I merely skimmed for school. This book was for a True Crime course I took in my 4th year of college. I remember my professor discussing the controversy of Capote’s claims. There were apparently rumors that Harper Lee had written a majority of the novel, that Capote had been having an affair with one of the murderers (or in the least wished to) and thus explained his apparent biased towards one over the other, and the debate over if it even matters that passages were exaggerations or fabrications.

So, here in lies my issue.

The novel is beautifully written. That is not an argument. The story is interesting and captivating. The narrative rarely lulls, even as the crime steps back from the forefront of the narrative. However, as this book is listed as a true crime, and Capote claims the details to be factual it’s hard to reconcile a beautifully written piece of work with the inconsistencies between what was written and what actually happened.

The victims of crimes are owed a certain level of respect when it comes to retelling the events of their death. It’s clear, even without knowledge of the inconsistencies, that Capote had biased towards one murderer over the other and was obviously attempting to evoke sympathy towards either one or both of the murderers. In the words of Jake Peralta of Brooklyn 99 “Cool motive, still murder” (and in this case they didn’t even have a cool motive, just poor lives).

A majority of the book is focused on the murderers. After the first 100 pages or so the victims are hardly ever mentioned again. Meanwhile, the murderer’s lives are dissected and discussed thoroughly. Their family histories, dynamics, their past crimes and childhoods are written in detail to try and piece together what sort of lives led to the crimes on the Clutter farm. In truth, it’s interesting to see, to borrow from Netflix, the making of a murderer. However, to attempt to evoke sympathy where really none is deserved is doing the Clutter family a disservice.

With the knowledge that Capote molded aspects of the narrative to suit his perspective, it’s hard to truly praise the work. As a piece of fiction this book would have been phenomenal, but knowing that aspects were fabricated lessens it’s brilliance for me.

fiction, historical fiction, mini review

Mini Review – My Name Is Lucy Barton

I don’t normally go for books like “My Name is Lucy Barton” but I had seen the title floating around GoodReads, especially with Strout’s other work “Olive Kitteridge” getting made into a miniseries. While not my normal cup of tea, “My Name Is Lucy Barton” has definitely piqued my interest to read more by Strout. The book is told from Lucy, who after fallen ill must stay in the hospital for an extended period of time and is surprised by a visit from her estranged mother. Lucy divulges in stories from her childhood and adolescence, revealing how she and her mother got to this point in their relationship.

“No one in this world comes from nothing.”

The book is a serious and realistic look of a person working out and working through the story of how they came to be. I know, had I been reading in a darker state of mind I likely would have bawled my way through it. Fortunately, it was a bright spot of not going through anything myself and I made it through unscathed. Lucy, and in turn Elizabeth Strout’s, language is not flowery, but profound in it’s simplicity. Lucy is direct with her observations – most she keeps to herself. The conversations, with their pauses and abrupt endings, are natural. Overall, the style is refreshing.

“My Name Is Lucy Barton” is the first in a series of books about Amgash, Illinois (the hometown of Lucy).

biography, mini review, non fiction

Mini Review – A Romanov Fantasy

Among the podcasts that I listen to while at work is one called The Dollop – a bi-weekly American History podcast where a comedian named Dave tells a story from American History to another comedian named Gareth who has no idea what the topic is about (if you listen to it, that sentence might sound really familiar). The stories are all obscure, likely overlooked pieces of history that they probably don’t teach in schools. If the boys ever wanted to do one on fake Anastasia claims (and for all I know they have and I haven’t gotten to it yet) this one would be the one for them.

In “A Romanov Fantasy” Frances Welch tells the story of Franziska Schanzkowska – I mean Fräulein Unbekannt…wait I mean Anna Tschaikovsky….wait no it’s Anna Anderson; there we go (at least until she gets married, then she picks up another name). Frances Welch tells the story of Anna Anderson; the young woman found jumping off a bridge in Berlin who claimed to be the dead grand duchess Anastasia Romanov, and all those who supported and opposed her. Anna’s tale takes her from an asylum in Berlin, through royal homes of Europe, abandoned army barracks in the Black Forest of Germany, to the home of a professor in Charlottesville, Virginia (who she married), and finally after a brief kidnapping, a care facility.

Frances Welch obviously did her research, but the book never feels as if reading a history text book. There’s countless names of 5 times removed cousins to long dead European monarchs – but I never found myself questioning who they were. The story is easy to follow without getting lost in the details. If you’re looking for answers, this book doesn’t really have them (except for the big one). How did she convince many of Anastasia’s relatives and close childhood friends into believing she was her? Why did she believe she was the dead Grand Duchess? Did all those who believe in her just want the most hopeful outcome no matter the truth of it? Suspend the desire to know these answers and the Romanov Fantasy is a fun tale of a quirky bit of history.

reading challenge, Summer Reading Challenge

Summer Reading Challenge

Here’s the thing.

I was an English major. As such, there were times that I was taking multiple English courses with the addition of General Education classes. Often times this would require reading from multiple courses being due at the same time on top of various other requirements. One person can only do so much reading, and my ability to BS-symbolism meaning, narrative choices, and character drive is far superior to my ability to answer questions about western civ and baroque era muscians, and even more so than my ability to begin to understand anything that happened in any of my science course lectures.

So, what ultimately ended up happening was I would start a reading assignment with good intentions, run out of time (I am a self professed slow reader) and focus on the studies I knew I had no chance of understanding without reading the entire assignment. I specifically remember a semester in my final year where I had 2 classes with a younger friend who was constantly frustrated by my ability to not do the entire reading assignment, but still end up impressing the professor enough to get my participation credit and a little admiration. It was a gift (with the help of various spark notes like sites).

However, the downside to this was that there were a few reading assignments that I had genuinely looked forward that I didn’t end up reading in their entirety. What’s even worse, is that I might have fudged my Goodreads list and claimed that I read them. Hey, in my defense I figured having read a good 70% of the book with at least a weeks worth of in class discussion and possibly a writing assignment was good enough to count as a read. I have now decided that it doesn’t, and that I should go back and truly read the books I claimed I have.

So, this summer, May through September, I’m issuing a challenge to myself to really get through some of the books I have claimed to have read. College was a while ago, and I don’t remember all the books I breezed through. Fortunately, I have kept enough to make it through the summer. I’m looking forward to no longer feeling like a liar and seeing what I missed out on. Feel free to pick up the idea for yourself!

I’ve already started on Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” that, according to the post-it note bookmark I found in the book, I only got to page 94 in before relying on spark notes and the internet. This book was for a True Crime class I took 4th year that I didn’t appreciate enough when I took it.

Below you’ll find a list of the other books I’ll be reading:

1.) “In Cold Blood” By Truman Capote (4th year True Crime class)
2.) “I Am Legend” By Richard Matheson (4th year Horror Classics class)
3.) “The Shining” By Stephen King (4th year Horror Classics class)
4.) “Frankenstein” By Mary Shelley (4th year Horror Classics class)
5.) “Let the Right One In” By John Ajvide Lingqvist (4th year Horror Classics class)
6.) “Dracula” By Bram Stoker (4th year Horror Classics class)
7.) “The Turn of the Screw” By Henry James (4h year Horror Classics class)
8.) “Henery V” By William Shakespeare (2nd year Study Abroad course)
9.) “Measure for Measure” By William Shakespeare (3rd year Shakespeare class)
10.) “The Odyssey” By Homer (2nd year Mythology class)
11.) “Jane Eyre” By Charlotte Bronte (Senior year of high school English class)

By this list it looks like I just skipped the 4th year Horror Classics class, but I did read the majority of each novel. Also, I can’t really remember in depth my course syllabus for my earlier years, and I sold back the majority of the books anyway. If I can somehow dig up my old reading lists, I’ll look into reading those, as well.

non fiction, Review, true crime

I’ll Be Gone In The Dark – Review

Not another “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” Review – I know what you did 40 years ago.

I finished “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” on April 22. The morning of April 25 I logged onto Facebook at work to find the following message, written in as much hast as I read it;


It had been just three days since I got whole heartedly invested in this case, and simultaneously heart broken by it – and now it might be solved? Then of course I went on vacation the next day and couldn’t process any of it. Honestly, that last day of work was a whirlwind – trying to finish things up while also watching the press conference (for part of which I was legit in a meeting trying to hide my screen). I’ll admit, I might have gotten a bit obnoxious over it – I vaguely remember running down an aisle because I heard a woman mention it in her conversation to an entirely other person.

“I’ll be gone in the dark” is heart breaking, and pulls you in relentlessly. You become as obsessed as Michelle, and it’s because of Michelle. Her drive and determination to see this guy behind bars spurs you. Her retelling of the EAR-ONS (East Area Rapist – Original Night Stalker, two of his nicknames before Michelle herself coined “Golden State Killer”) crimes are horrific without being gratuitous. If you’re like me and like to read before bed, I suggest picking a separate “night book”; you wont want to think about this book right before sleeping. Mainly because you won’t end up sleeping. Michelle’s personal story, her journey hunting this man, is woven throughout the narrative and beautifully so. I never felt like one plot was lacking, or one was filler. Her relationship with this case is just as intriguing as the case itself.

The background of “I’ll be gone in the dark” is another layer of heartbreak on top of the terrible crimes committed by EAR-ONS. Michelle McNamara was in the middle of writing her book when suddenly, in her sleep, she passed away in 2016. Her husband, Patton Oswalt, made the publication of the finished novel possible by enlisting investigative journalists and other sleuths Michelle had been in contact with before her death. Michelle’s death is just below the surface of the novel, a lasting reminder making each poignant moment even more so.

Your heart breaks for the women and men this man terrorized. Your heart breaks because he was never caught. Your heart breaks that Michelle’s life was cut short, that she was unable to catch the monster. And your heart breaks at last because you know at the end of the book you will never get to read anything else by her.

“There’s a scream permanently lodged in my throat now.”

Her words flow easily, but strong. They’re beautiful in their simplicity, and leave you craving more. You can hear Michelle telling you this story, her voice is so explicitly hers that it’s a relief that those who finished the book did not attempt to emulate her. It would have been doing her a disservice and personally I think it wouldn’t have been possible. There’s just something about how Michelle writes about this case, you can can feel her passion in the words.

Perhaps it’s because I first heard about her through the podcast “My Favorite Murder”, but Michelle tells the story as a friend would. She’s not pretending to know more than the reader, she’s not presenting herself as an expert. She tells of her dead ends and mistakes as much as her successes. She’s telling her friend about the case she’s been looking into – and we’re privileged enough to be that friend.

It’s taken me a good two weeks to write this. I kept starting and restarting and coming back to it. I wanted to be able to get my point across that this is much more than a true crime novel without blubbering on. I wanted to be able to convince at least one more person to read the book –  for Michelle.