Saturday, 19 June 2010

In Cold Blood. By Truman Capote

In Cold Blood

Truman Capote

Penguin Books, 2008; First published 1965

A book that I always wanted to read, having heard so much about it. It's a factual account (written almost like a novel) of the brutal murder of an ordinary rural upper middle-class farmer family of four in Kansas by two men, whose initial motive is robbery. They are convinced the farmer has a safe full of money, they find it's not so, they kill all four, including two teenagers. The killing however seems completely random, not really connected to their frustration at not finding the money. Capote paints a good picture of the psyches of the two killers, though there is some psycho-babble, trying to 'explain' their personalities as a result of their childhood. However, the account is honest enough to admit Capote's defeat even after six years of research trying very hard to understand why the killings occurred, before he wrote the book. Capote also links up, if only tangentially, the randomness and meaninglessness of these killings to others of a similar nature that kept occuring while he was writing the book (and presumably keep occuring into the present day, maybe also here in India). A lot of the motive, means, characters, their actions, background, etc. seems essentially American, though some parts of it, especially characters, remind me of John Wainwright's novels set in England. A good, and, on the whole, honest book about a couple of very bad people (though Capote does not thrust his judgments such as 'good' or 'bad' on us).

Friday, 4 June 2010

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. By Michael Chabon

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

Michael Chabon

Harper Perennial Olive Edition (2008)

I bought this book because Chitra's in Pittburgh. Apparently, Chabon wrote this book when he was 23 years old - his first novel, and apparently written as an assignment for one of the courses he was taking at UC, Irvine. It shows! Described as a 'bildungsroman' on the blurb, it a very American coming-of-age tale - so a lot of navel gazing, with shades of 'Summer of '42' (The entire story happens one summer!). And a 100 other books, I suppose. Including, as admitted by the author, 'The Great Gatsby'. Chabon writes well, except for a tendency to make only tangential allusions to the real action and the real thread of the story, and instead spend his time describing surroundings, people, etc. He also keeps pulling out words and expressions that one has to Google for (or look up in the dictionary), which might, I think, have been substituted easily with something simpler. Just showing off!

The protagonist is torn between love for his boyfriend and for his girlfriend. He has a great deal of admiration for a crooked mutual friend, who's does the collection for a loan shark before he trains to be jewel thief, and gets killed after his first heist. He also is trying to run away from his father who's some kind of jewish mafia boss, and who's opponent is the one who trains the jewel thief. Ultimately there is very little you can take away from the book, except maybe a sense of tolerance to all sorts of people and personalities. But that is far better (far, far better) done by Graham Greene ('Travels with my Aunt') or even sentimental old Steinbeck ('Cannery Row'). There are homosexual as well as hetrosexual sex scenes which are mildly pornographic, and also, to me, mildly off-putting. If I had known the book would be like this, I would not have bought it. However, the 300 or so pages did not actually bore me, and the last 50 or so pages actually make you want to keep reading. And how about the Pittsburgh connection? Well it's there, some descriptions of some of the roads and localities in the city, but there's nothing in the book that could not have been placed in any other medium sized city in the US - Seattle, e.g. or Phoenix or some such - I don't know.

Chabon apparently won the Pulitzer prize for another later book of his (he wrote '...Pittsburgh' in 1988), but I'm not sure I would buy any other book by him.