Were Truman Capote’s Pants On Fire?

As BHB readers know well, Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood (as well as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and A House on the Heights) while living at 70 Willow Street right here in Brooklyn Heights (when he did his writing, he wasn’t in Kansas anymore). Now, as this Wall Street Journal piece tells it, recently revealed Kansas Bureau of Investigation records contradict, in some respects, the story told in In Cold Blood. None of the discrepancies affects the story of the crime itself or the guilt of the convicted murderers. They relate to Capote’s description of K.B.I. agent Alvin Dewey as the hero of the case. The files show that Dewey actually delayed the identification and arrest of the killers by as much as five days because he doubted an important piece of evidence: the statement by a former fellow prisoner of one of the murderers, Richard Hickock, that Hickock said after his release he planned to rob and murder the Clutter family.

Information from the files also shows that (we’re shocked, shocked! to learn this) Capote’s narrative shows people that he liked in a better light than those he didn’t. As a particularly egregious example, he described a prosecuting attorney who was friendly and helpful to him as the superior of another who was indifferent; in fact, the reverse was true.

Local literary lion Colson Whitehead has tweeted a link to the story, prefacing it with “Next they’ll come after Joseph Mitchell!!!” A couple of tweets later, he gives a link to Jack Shafer’s piece in Slate that castigates Mitchell, along with H.L. Mencken and A.J. Liebling, for having “made stuff up.”

Capote called In Cold Blood a “non-fiction novel.” Is this a contradiction in terms?

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  • DIBS

    It was never supposed to be a work on non-fiction.