In the New York Times, Eliot Fremont-Smith discusses the squabbles that occurred in the literary world over Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, squabbles that continue today. He wrote of Capote, “The author is now concerned that In Cold Blood be taken as an example of a new literary form, ‘the non-fiction novel'”. The debate of what constitutes a novel and what constitutes non-fiction. Fremont-Smith argues that the mixing of the two genres is irrelevant: It is too bad, because this fine work raises questions and offers insights that are far more important and, God knows, more interesting than technical debates over the definition of a new or possibly not new literary form. (Book, 8). Fremont-Smith discusses “the dichotomy between the moral judgment of an act and the moral judgment of the person who commits it”(10). He contends that thinking about this is both “frightening and difficult to retain in mind,” but that people must keep the act in their minds if they want to come to terms with viciousness of the crime, sorrow for the victims, and sympathy for the victims.
Others issues are raised as well. Fremont-Smith discusses some of the philosophical questions In Cold Blood raises: Among the matter the book raises-or rather on great sympathy and controlled agony reveals-or haunts the chanciness of our individual existences, how people succumb to or override mutual suspicion, the mystery of how criminals are made and perhaps born, irrelevancy of the legal concept of sanity, the issues of capital punishment and a host of theological questions, as compelling as they are unanswerable. Discussing the merits of fiction versus non-fiction and calling the genre non-fiction novels or even literary journalism is a non-issue. The issue is whether this type of literature is worth while. The Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Fiction contends In Cold Blood blurred “the boundary between standard journalism and fiction” and “could itself create a new layer of narrative tension within the bounds of the traditional novel”.
It has created a new, worthwhile genre with such a narrative tension. Although one can argue that In Cold Blood was not the first book of its kind, it did change literature. Literary journalism is credited to Capote. Many noteworthy books since In Cold Blood have been written in the style of the non-fiction novel. Sleepers by Lorenzo Caracterra, The Last Brother by Joe McGinniss, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt come to mind, but there are many more. The philosophical questions Fremont-Smith contends are raised by Capote are still relevant today. People in Holcomb, Kansas (the setting of the murders in this book) believed they were safe. In their insular world, they believed violence was something that only happened on the football field. Like Columbine High School, safety was only an illusion. Fremont-Smith asked the questions that make us uneasy, the questions that, at the very least, need to be asked, even if we never find an answer.
- Fremont-Smith, Eliot. “Books of The Times: In Cold Blood.” New York Times Book Review. 10 January 1966. Lexis-Nexis Geyh, Paula, Fred G.
- Leebron, and Andrew Levy. Postmodern American Fiction; A Norton Anthology. New York: W.W. Norton ; Company, 1998.