Half of a Yellow Sunby C.N. Adichie

Half of a Yellow Sun

By Chimananda Ngozi Adichie

Published 2006

Read:  sometime in 2016; reread Sept 2017

This is a truly remarkable book.

First let me share that when I started reading (actually listening to) this book, I did not know its subject.  I only knew that I appreciated Adichie’s more recent book Americanah , was interested in more by this author, and a friend recommended this one.  I purchased the audiobook, but did not read it for several months.  By the time I began to read it, I only knew it was set in Nigeria, the birth country of the author.  What a powerful and wonderful surprise to be treated to a deep story of three characters through which I learned much about Nigeria—its history and impact of that history on the relationships between various regions, ethnic groups, and classes–and the brief history of Biafra as it sought to split from Nigeria and form a separate independent republic.

Adichie tells this complex story in 4 Parts and 37 chapters from the perspective of three characters.  In addition, eight extracts from “The Book:  The World Was Silent When We Died” are dispersed through the book.  The reader eventually understands this book is being written by one of the characters and the book is about the history of Biafra.

In Part One: The Early Sixties we meet the three characters whose perspectives we will view the overall story.

Ugwu is a 13 year boy from a poor village who gets a job as a house boy for a math professor at Nssuka University.  His aunty learned about the position through her job as a cleaner in the university building housing the math department.  The aunty assures Master that Ugwu will learn quickly.  Odenigbo (Master) fails at getting Ugwu to call him by his name vs “Master” or “Sah” but does get Ugwu into school so that he can substantially extend his education beyond his very few years of elementary school.  Through Ugwu’s perspective we learn, in Part One, about the his awe of modern plumbing and appliances, his role in the house, the arrival of Odenigbo’s lover Olanna and the impact she has on Ugwu’s cooking and personal hygiene, and Master’s friends who argue about politics of Nigeria .  Thus the story through his perspective starts teaching us about the various socio-economic classes and gives us a picture of the political problems in Nigeria in the early 1960s.

Olanna is a London educated daughter of an Igbo Chief who resides in Lagos and whose business interests and personal finances benefit from this political position.  She does not “support” her father’s business interests by having a relationship with another Chief nor does she take a job in Lagos as her parents would prefer, but rather accepts a job as an instructor at Nssuka University so she can cohabitate with her “revolutionary lover”, as her twin sister, Kaninene calls Odenigbo.  We learn through Olana’s perspective, in Part One, about her mother’s sister and family who live in Kano (in the north) in a 2-room apartment in a compound and make their living selling goods in a market, about her former rich Muslim boyfriend (also lives in Kano), and about the stresses of establishing herself in life post-grad school as Odengibo’s  lover, with his group of friends, and her new relationships with her family. Thus we gain insight about more socio-economic classes, religious conflicts, and politics in Nigeria.

Richard is a young British expatriate who has come to Nigeria with an interest in Igbo-Ukwu art and a desire to become a writer, or at least a journalist of more substance than he’d accomplished so far with a tiny column for a paper in London.  His Aunt Elizabeth (who raised him after he was orphaned) connected him with Susan, another expatriate who is a little older than Richard and who had been in Nigeria for some time.  She helps him get established with living essentials, introduces him to her (exclusively) ex-pat friends, encourages his writing by setting up an office for him in her home, and makes him her boyfriend.  He meets Kainene, Olanna’s twin, and leaves Susan.  He takes a position at Nssuka University and moves to Nssuka.  Kainene has Olanna get him a houseboy and introduce Richard to Odenigbo’s friends, fully linking these major characters.  Through his perspective we learn about the British attitudes regarding Nigerian people and Nigeria’s recent independence from Britain, get an impression about Kaninene’s business life, and meet Major Madu, a friend of Kaninene’s since childhood and a member of Nigeria’s army.  Thus we gain more understanding about additional aspects of the Nigeria political and business scene at the time.

In Part Two:  The Late Sixties Adichie uses her characters to tells us of the political coups, massive violence against the Igbo people following the second coup, secession of the Igbo region from Nigeria as Biafra , and  the beginning of the military action Nigeria begins to force reunification.  Her characters, which she has by now richly drawn for us, can now provide us a human view of these events—the devastation of losing family members to the massacre in the north, the excitement of Biafra’s declaration of independence, and the confusion and disorientation of becoming an in-country refugee while fleeing “the vandals” (the Nigerian army).

Part Three:  The Early Sixties takes us back before the coup.  In this short part we learn about personal wars and betrayals that nearly break Olanna’s relationship with Odinigbo and Richard’s relationship with Kaninene .  Through these issues the story shows us the expectations of a village mother (Odinigbo’s) and the role of magic and spells in villagers’ lives again informing us of Nigerian parallel cultures—village and intellectuals.

Part Four:  The Late Sixties is the longest section.  Adichie’s characters lead us through the war. Initially, life is difficult but still bearable as Biafra continues to establish a government (and army!) and teach the residents about the expected joy of independence.  However, as Nigeria gains Britain’s support to reunify and other countries fail to recognize Biafra, life becomes increasingly difficult as the number of in-country refugees increases and aid to them severely declines.  Her characters Olanna and Ugwu allow us a very human view of the impact of Nigeria’s use of starvation as a major weapon in their war against Biafra, the toll of losing loved ones, the inequities still present between the government employees and the masses,  and  the horrors of war fought by conscripted young people directed militarily by hired mercenaries.  Richard’s character helps us understand aspects of the role of journalism in the war.  He is asked to write articles to send to the foreign press to gain recognition of Biafra or at least of its dire need for help for its people’s survival.  He serves as guide to some foreign correspondents who seek to “get the story” which isn’t the same as getting a real understanding of the actual situation.  We feel the relentless pressure of the war on every aspect of the characters’ lives and struggle with them as they are stripped of so much but try to retain some threads of themselves.  During my second read, I knew how the story would end, but I still cheered for the characters and hoped things would turn out better than I knew they would.

I listened to an unabridged edition, narrated by Robin Miles and published by Recorded Books in 2011. .  The voice she provided for each character reflected their socio-economic class, education, and country of origin.  Unfortunately I do not find this edition through on-line searches for it.  A new edition published by Books on Tape was apparently released Sept 19, 2017 and now shows on the Recorded Books website.  I hope it provides a similar experience for the listener as it certainly added to my understanding of the characters.

This is “historical fiction” at its best:  multiple superbly and fully developed major characters, a carefully constructed cast of essential supporting characters, engaging personal stories that provide much information about the culture, the socio-economic climate, and the drivers of the historical events–without ever feeling like you’ve been lectured to.  Adichie is an excellent story teller but even more importantly she provides us an exceptionally human look at a piece of history which is likely familiar to few readers in the west.

Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates

Black Water

By Joyce Carol Oates

Published 1992

Read Sept 2017

I chose this book for a book discussion group with the assignment “any book with a food in the title”.  “Water” may be a stretch but I was also interested in reading a Joyce Carol Oates book.

I knew from the book cover that this would be at least somewhat about the Chappaquiddick incident of 1969 in which Senator Ted Kennedy drove into a channel.  He survived, but his passenger, 28 year old Mary Jo Kopechne didn’t.

Oates has indicated to interviewers that the book is not about that incident.  She’s correct.  The incident in Oates’ book occurs in 1989; the actual incident occurred in 1969. The Senator in this book is in his 50’s and about 25 years older than Kelly; Kennedy was 37 at the time of the incident and only 9 years Mary Jo’s senior. The party in this book was off the coast of Maine and The Senator and Kelly were trying to make a ferry to the mainland.   The actual incident occurred on a bridge connecting a small island to the larger island of Martha ’s Vineyard.  The party in this book was hosted by a college friend of Kelly and The Senator stopped by, a welcomed but not fully anticipated guest; Kennedy hosted the party in the actual incident. In this book, Kelly packed to leave the party with The Senator and said goodbye to her hostess.  Mary Jo Kopechne did not pack and even left her hotel key behind.   In this book, Kelly’s prior connection with The Senator was her college senior thesis; Mary Jo Kopechne had worked on Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 presidential election along with the other 5 girls at the party.  In this book, The Senator had been at the 1988 Democratic party convention and had turned down Michael Dukakis’ offer of the vice-presidential candidacy and had overtly decided not to pursue a run at the presidency himself because “he’d understood, as Dukakis had not, that the Democrats’ best efforts in that election year were doomed.”  Kennedy actually did pursue his party’s nomination for presidential candidate in 1980 but lost to Jimmy Carter.  The Senator goes back to the party after the incident in this book to consult the host regarding best next steps; Ted Kennedy did not interact with anyone until the next day.

So it’s not the same incident but Oates was evidentially influenced by it.

She chooses to tell this story primarily from the perspective of Kelly.  Kelly’s backstory is revealed including her feelings of inadequacy following a breakup with her boyfriend and the devastation she felt after Dukakis (for whose campaign she worked) loses the presidential race.  She’s not financially, professionally, or personally where she thought she would be by this age.  She’s trying to break free of expectations of her parents and not live the life they would have preferred but is not consistent with her desire to be a successful, independent, sophisticated woman with substantial and noble views on important topics.  She meets The Senator, an older, very powerful, very successful politician whom she has admired to the point of writing a 90 page paper about him.  She is so compelled by his attention to her  and his physical advances toward her that she accepts his invitation to leave the island and go to the mainland with him. She is aware of what she’s doing, although she continuously fortifies herself that she’s making the right decision to leave with him .

Oates paints The Senator as an older, powerful man, separated from his family and always ready to explore short-term relationships with adoring younger women. We learn some of The Senator’s perspective, in particular after he has escaped the submerged vehicle which involved pushing against Kelly to free himself from the wreckage and move towards the surface.   His most immediate thoughts are focused on the impact of the event on his career and how the press and law will treat him inappropriately.

The story is told quickly in only 154 pages. The 32 chapters vary in length from a mere paragraph to multiple pages.  The scene changes repeatedly between the party, the drive, and spends much time with Kelly’s thoughts and actions while she’s trying to keep herself alive in the submerged car.  There is a sense of a Greek chorus that is chanting the oft repeated phrase:  “As the black water filled her lungs, and she died.”

What does this book accomplish? Why did she write it?  Oates dedicates the book:  “for the Kellys—“.   My take is that Oates has several intentions—1)  keep alive the memory of the actual incident —it occurred almost 50 years ago now and risks fading from general memory; 2) cause us to wonder about the fact that the senator remained a senator despite this incident; 3) cause us to think about the continuing situation of an older, powerful man and his pursuit of a young woman—the fragility of self-perception and the impact of sexual advances of someone with power who knows they have that power.


Georgia:  A Novel of Georgia O’Keefe

by Dawn Tripp

Published 2016

Read Jan 2, 2017

Dawn Tripp became intrigued by Georgia O’Keefe after attending a show of her abstractions held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2009.  She researched her life extensively and was able to read a large collection of letters between O’Keefe and Stieglitz, initially her mentor, then her lover, then her manager and eventually her husband, while writing this book.  Tripp is clear about what she offers us—a novel inspired by the life of O’Keefe, imagining dialogue between O’Keefe and Stieglitz as well as O’Keefe’s internal dialogue.  I appreciate her honesty about what she’s written and the extensive research she did to prepare.  I did, however, have difficulty with the imagining of dialogue and, especially, the internal thoughts regarding their passion and details of their sexual relationship.

The book did help me substantially expand my understanding of O’Keefe’s life and art and her relationship with Stieglitz, about whom I had no knowledge beyond that he and O’Keefe were lovers and their careers were linked.   Tripp wants us to better understand both the positive and negative impact he had on O’Keefe’s career.

Stieglitz enabled her to leave an unsatisfying teaching career and to fully focus on her art—she didn’t have to worry about working to support herself.  One can say that the money came from sale of her art, which was true eventually but not initially.  His promotion of O’Keefe was essential for the public to know anything of her art.   She completely put her art in his hands from a business standpoint. I found it interesting that the first show he included her work in was done without her even knowing it.  Because he has an understanding of what will sell, she gets some input on what to paint and not—some of which she follows but most of which she does not, although (I think) the art exhibited was chosen by him.   Only once while Stieglitz is alive does she enter a business relationship or exhibition without his support—the commission to paint a permanent mural on the ladies room of the Radio City Music Hall.  He does influence the contract eventually after much discussion between them.  The project fails and she has a mental breakdown and requires hospitalization. It’s not fully clear what led to the breakdown—the failure of the project or his warning not to take the contract. Her apparent distance from the business aspects of her life and work are exemplified by the fact that following his death, 27 years pass before another major NYC show of her work.

The first major show of O’Keefe’s work that Stieglitz produced in 1923 included not only her work but a number of his photographs of her, many being nudes.  This was a rare public showing of his own work; he had focused more on promoting and enabling other artists for some time.  The co-exhibition permanently linked together O’Keefe and Stieglitz as more than a producer/artist.   This show also established O’Keefe as a major woman artist and set up the critical view that followed her throughout her career—focused on her gender.  O’Keefe rejected this interpretation of her work.  She wanted her art to be considered through a genderless perspective and she wanted to be known as the greatest living artist—not the greatest living woman artist.  Her focus remained on creating art and she profoundly limits interactions critics and others.     She actively distances herself from feminism and the feminist leaders of her time, including Gloria Stienem who tried to visit her but was rebuffed.  Such was her desire to not be seen through a gender or feminist perspective.  Even in the reviews of 1946 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (which Stieglitz arranged) which he shares with her she only partly appreciates.  From James Thrall Soby:  “She is the greatest of living women painters….Hers is a world of bones and flowers, hills and the city….She created this world; it was not there before and there is nothing like it anywhere.”  Stieglitz hears the aspect of creating a unique world but she is offended by the reference to her as a women painter.  O’Keefe believed she was a great artist period and rejects the “woman artist” reference because it limited the public’s view of her.

Stieglitz make O’Keefe possible—brings her to the public eye and finds financial support for her (eventually from the sale of her work) so that she can fully devote herself to her art.   But Stieglitz also hurts O’Keefe.  Stieglitz clearly loves O’Keefe but also enjoys adoration from young women, O’Keefe being one of these early in their own relationship.  O’Keefe never forgives Stieglitz’s affairs, especially the one with Mrs. Norman who becomes an administrative assistant for Stieglitz and the studio and whom O’Keefe dismisses after Stieglitz’s death.  Stieglitz denies O’Keefe a child, possibly because he understands, although she doesn’t at the time, that O’Keefe does and always would place art first and foremost in her life.   There was space for Stieglitz in that obsession with art at least initially as O’Keefe’s obsession with art and with Stieglitz were blurred together for some time.  They remain married and business partners through Stieglitz’s affairs but they spend less and less time together, especially once O’Keefe discovers the west and her love for it.  She slowly disengages from Stieglitz as she spends increasingly more time in New Mexico.  Tripp notes that O’Keefe can pinpoint a moment that her life became wholly hers “more mine than it ever was before because I will never again let it be anything less”.

According to Tripp, O’Keefe wonders about what her art would have become if she had not met him and the obsession between them had not begun.  In particular she wonders what direction she would have gone with her early abstract forms which she generally chose not to exhibit to avoid their interpretation through a gender view.   In the opening chapter of the book O’Keefe recalls that even while a poor school teacher she was “driven only by a singular, relentless passion for my art”.

Tripp introduces us to O’Keefe and Stieglitz, the results of their mutual obsession, the importance of O’Keefe in art history, the range of her work beyond the well-known flower paintings (only about 10% of her portfolio) and opens the question of what might have been in the absence of the meeting of O’Keefe and Stieglitz and subsequent mutual obsession.   I appreciate that Tripp has enabled me to know more about O’Keefe than I would have otherwise.  To do it, however, required a willingness to accept Tripp’s imaginings of dialog and internal thinking which remains somewhat problematic for this reader.

Family Ties

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

By Anne Tyler

Published 1982

Read September 2017

I selected this book for a book discussion with the assignment “any book with food in the title”.  I struggled finding one and settled on something I hope close enough—you eat food in a restaurant….  I also selected this book because I read two of her novels in the distant past and thought this would be a great time to revisit this author.

As with most of Tyler’s work this book focuses on a particular family and relationships within it.  The reader is first introduced to Pearl Tull as she is dying with son, Ezra, at her side.   The reader learns that Pearl was surprised she wanted “extra children” after she had her first son, Cody, late in life (in 1931).  She was married (to the surprise of many including herself) at age 30 to Beck Tull, age 24 and a travelling salesman.  Pearl and Buck had three children and moved frequently from town to town as Beck had “invites” to new sales territories for the Tanner Corporation.  “One Sunday night in 1944, he said he didn’t want to stay married.  They were sending him to Norfolk, he said; but he thought it best if he went alone. ….”We’ll sleep on it,” she told him.    But he said, “It’s tonight I’m going.” And he was gone.  We learn that Pearl stays in the rented row house in Baltimore with the three children, Cody (14), Ezra (11) and Jenny (9).   She never tells them their father has left (he travelled frequently for weeks at a time) and they never asked her about him even after they realize he’s been gone for a very long time and may not return.  She takes a job as a cashier to provide for them as Beck sends only a small amount of money monthly.   Chapter 1 gives a short glimpse of Pearl’s perspective on their family and life and ends as she “was borne away to the beach, where three small children ran toward her, laughing, across the sunlit sand.”  Chapters 2-9 explore the three children and their perspectives on events in their lives and on their fellow family members.  Pearl’s voice shows up during these chapters as well.  The final chapter draws us back to Pearl’s death, the gathering of Cody and Jenny and their families from their homes back to Baltimore, and Ezra’s attempt to have a family dinner after the funeral.

Tyler told an interviewer that her work is all about the characters; plot is secondary.  That approach is evident here.  The first and last chapters serve as bookends to the exploration of mother Pearl and her children Cody, Ezra, and Jenny.  The family has little interaction with others.  Pearl and Buck moved frequently and friendships were never pursued.  Pearl focused on making the rental safe, secure, and extremely orderly. (Note “homey” is not part of the description).  Stair repair, gutter cleaning, clean clothing neatly arranged in the cardboard dressers and closets—that was her focus.  This focus doesn’t change after she takes a job where she serves the public daily but never engages with it.  Interestingly, oldest son Cody, who is extremely focused on “beating” favorite son, Ezra, becomes an efficiency engineer who travels the country bringing order and efficiency to various companies’ operations sites.  His continuous travel makes it easy for him to avoid building friendships with others but he is adamant that his wife and son always travel with him as he goes site to site.  Jenny, the youngest child, becomes a successful pediatrician who is too busy to interact with those outside the family. She has severe challenges developing meaningful relationships with any of her family including mother, siblings, husbands, and her own children. Ezra, who Pearl acknowledges is her favorite, is the only child to stay in Baltimore, and in fact remains in the row house with his mother and cares for her as she loses sight and health.  He does develop external relationships, becoming like a second son to the owner of the restaurant at which he begins working in high school. He visits her in a very devoted manner while she slowly dies and even develops a relationship with a foreign family who visits their dying family member in the same facility.  Despite his mother’s plans for him to be a teacher, he eventually becomes partner in and then owner of the restaurant.  As it becomes soley his, he fervently evolves its nature in a somewhat chaotic manner to a format focused on cooking “what people felt homesick for”.   He alone pursues a relationship with and among his family by repeatedly trying to provide a family dinner that brings the family together for a whole meal.

I appreciate the book’s deep appreciation for the remarkable but not uncommon outcome that children experience vastly different childhoods while living with the same family members, under the same roof, eating the same food, and attending the same family outings.  I appreciate that the book presents four complex characters for whom you feel empathy even while you can’t understand them.  They are characters not caricatures.  They are not simple and they are not grotesque.  They are real people.  Pearl and each of her children “make it” in that they are financially self-sufficient, have respectable occupations, and are not obviously outside the mainstream of society.  But all face significant challenges in figuring out how to deal with situations they can’t control, how to deal with family they don’t understand and how to interact with the greater society with which they feel limited connection and with which they have limited understanding.    The author doesn’t tell us why this is so; she leaves us to consider that for ourselves.  Thus I recommend this as a straightforward, unassuming read that packs a whallop.

Reading About Wine –Impact of a Book Club

Summer in a Glass:  The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes

By Evan Dawson

Published 2011

Read Sept 2017

The beauty of book discussion groups!  A local library’s approach to book discussions is to set a theme and have each participant share a book within that theme.  I wasn’t sure how this would work but now I know:  IT DOES!

The theme of my first foray with this group was “Wine” — about wine or wine in the title.

A book shared at that meeting with a “thumbs up” recommendation:  Summer in a Glass by Evan Dawson.

I now provide a “thumbs up” and recommend you to read as well.

I live in the Finger Lakes in the summer and I listen to Evan Dawson’s daily show on Rochester’s NPR affiliate WXXI so this seemed a natural book for me to try.  I read it in only a very few sittings and was sorry to see it end.   Evan’s articulate and crisp voice comes through as he describes with clear joy and appreciation his encounters with some of the best winemakers/wineries in the area.  He provides some of their personal history in getting to their place in the story of Finger Lakes winemaking.    I was pleased to learn that collaboration and knowledge sharing is rampant in the Finger Lakes.  These wineries want to make world-class wines and they want the world to understand this.  They believe–and walk the talk—that success of any individual winery can raise the profile of the region and engage more people to visit and enjoy them all—now over 100 in number.

I knew pieces of the stories of some of these wineries—which I’ve visited with frequency.  Others I knew less about and now I know why—some of these winery owners are very private.  I’m glad to have learned more about them and will appreciate their wine and facility even more during future visits.

Evan’s writing is brisk, concise, and engaging.  He’s packed 12 stories with index and acknowledgements into 266 pages.  He’s revealed a little, but not too much, about himself as he’s not the focus of the work.  But his desire to understand the region and tell others about it required a dedicated journey so it’s appropriate to learn about specific days and encounters.  He starts and ends with the story of a young winemaker from Germany, his strong desire to stay in the Finger Lakes, and the immigration challenges he has faced.  The reader wants him to stay too as we learn about the great wine he’s made and especially as we learn about his desire and efforts to help make all Finger Lakes wineries great.   By the end of the book word from the Labor Department about his final appeal hadn’t been obtained so it ends with a cliff hanger as well as a toast to this winemaker for the positive impact he’s made on a number of wineries.

The book was published in 2011 so I hoped that I could learn the outcome of Johannes’s wait and that it would be positive.  I was delighted to learn that it was and he and his wife are making wine not too far from where I live.  Yeah!

In summary—a pretty fast and very enjoyable read to learn about the NY Finger Lakes Wine Region and the people who are enabling it to be considered one of the world’s great wine regions.


In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood

by Truman Capote

Published 1966

Read Aug 2017

The assigned topic for a book discussion group of which I’m a member was “True Crime”.  That’s not a genre I read, but of course the purpose of the book discussion group is to introduce new reading possibilities so I decided to join in.

I decided on “In Cold Blood” for two reasons:  1)  Capote’s book is one of the largest selling “true crime” books of all times and is a “classic” in this category; 2)  I attribute this book to the reason I locked my parents out of our rural home multiple times in the early 1970’s after reading this book at age 12.  I really wanted to see how I would respond to the book when reading it several decades later.

Bottom line:  the book is so well written I again read it in very few very long sittings. 

In the first section “The Last to See Them Alive” we meet the community of Holcomb and each member of the Cutter family, and learn what family members were doing on November 15, 1959, their last day alive.  His writing allows us to see vividly the landscape of the area, how ordinary the day was for the community, and how each family member was connected to the small community.  We are introduced to the killers’ activities that day.  We experience the shock of Nancy’s friends when they discover the families’ bodies and that of the community as they deal with the initial duties following the crime.

In the second section “Persons Unknown” we meet the crime investigators and feel their commitment to their task and the frustration they feel as the killers’ left little with which to trace them.  We begin more in-depth interactions with the killers as they start their post-crime “travels”.  We begin to see how damaged Perry Smith is and wonder at Dick Hickock’s capacity for compartmentalization of his actions.

The third section “Answer”, the investigators get a break and learn the identities of the killers through a cell-mate of Dick Hickock.  But it takes time to actually apprehend the killers and during this time the community continues to suffer.  We learn more of Perry and Dick’s story of their travels post-crime as well as their pasts. We learn the peculiarities of small-town jails and how the killers are kept separated during their incarceration before and during their eventual trial. Perry Smith’s correspondence is provided us and gives us an increasingly deep view of his past.   We experience with the investigators their surprise that the killers will and do confess to their crimes.   Perry’s confession finally provides us the simple specific details of the crime.

The fourth section, ”The Corner”, details the post-trial period.  Frankly the depth of details about the other death-row inmates felt unnecessary but this is Capote being consistent about providing the whole story of the killers’ background and experiences.  Apparently Capote provided the killers some help during their appeal process although his involvement is not discussed in the book.  Aspects of the appeals and conclusions drawn by various appeal boards are provided.

Capote’s writing enables us to learn much about the killers.  I use the term “killers” throughout this piece because that’s what they were as a result of this event.  They weren’t killers before but somehow they became killers and we never really know why.  Perry’s life was clearly horrendous and he is left a substantially damaged individual as a result.  Dick’s life was much more normal and he entered into criminal acts initially to simply pay his bills.  But something happens that tips the balance.  We don’t ever understand what causes that and likely neither did he.  The senselessness of the killings is remarkable and it’s not surprising that the members of Holcomb lost some of their sense of security.  Some moved from the empty countryside and some never fulfilled their dreams of building a home in that empty countryside.

Capote’s book remains “a classic” not because it’s a “what happened and who did it and keep you on the edge of your seat” kind of book.  It’s a classic because readers of this book will be left with sorrow that something so terrible could happen to such nice people; that individuals can become killers and we and they really don’t know why; that there are such damaged people in our society and that their damage is caused by other deeply damaged people; that there are people that grow up in good families that can take such a horrible path.  That there is nothing obvious we can do to prevent further incidents or prevent becoming victims ourselves.  We’re only left with locking our doors at night even when it seems we shouldn’t need to do that.