This Week’s Best Profile

This week we have Truman Capote’s masterwork: a study of two men who brutally murdered a family of four rural Kansans, the Clutters. You might have seen the movie.

Here’s one of the men, Perry Smith, describing his lack of remorse to a friend hoping to find some contrition:

Perry said, “Am I sorry? If that’s what you mean – I’m not. I don’t feel anything about it. I wish I did. But nothing about it bothers me a bit. Half an hour after it happened, Dick [Hickock, his accomplice] was making jokes and I was laughing at them. Maybe we’re not human. I’m human enough to feel sorry for myself. Sorry I can’t walk out of here when you walk out. But that’s all.” Cullivan could scarcely credit so detached an attitude; Perry was confused, mistaken, it was not possible for any man to be that devoid of conscience or compassion. Perry said, ‘Why? Soldiers don’t lose much sleep. They murder, and get medals for doing it. The good people of Kansas want to murder me – and some hangman will be glad to get the work. It’s easy to kill – a lot easier than passing a bad check. Just remember: I only knew the Clutters maybe an hour. If I’d really known them, I guess I’d feel differently. I don’t think I could live with myself. But the way it was, it was like picking off targets in a shooting gallery.”

The writing might not blow you away – unless you consider the obvious influence this piece, along with a few others, had on the the past forty years of literary journalism. Decades worth of New Yorker articles owe their pacing to this story.

You can read the first of four chapters via The New Yorker, which first published the account. The other three chapters are for subscribers; and then there’s the book.

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