Thursday, November 27, 2014

Handcarved Coffins - Truman Capote

Author: Truman Capote
Date: 1977
Setting: a small town in the American West
Availability: in the anthology Music for Chameleons

Story: Residents of the un-named small town receive small handcarved coffins in the mail, and some time afterwards each is murdered. The methods are different and there is no known connection between the victims.

The author is friends with the FBI agent who has been living in the town, investigating. Finally, a link between the victims is found, and this points to a likely suspect. Much to his astonishment, the author has previously met the suspect. The agent, meanwhile, has fallen in love with a woman who is likely to be on the victim list, and indeed, she does receive a coffin in the mail.

Commentary: This story purports to be true, but subsequent studies on the topic seem to indicate it is based on a similar real incident, but is not in any sense a true story. It is told, not in story form, but as a dialogue with some scene setting, more like a screenplay. As the style is consistent throughout, it does not detract from the telling, but it is certainly not the normal short story format.

While supposedly just a recounting of an intriguing bit of American crime, the reader may deduce that there is are a few too many coincidences. Once it is viewed as fiction, a theme becomes the failure of society to stop evil. Evil masquerades as righteousness; people are too deeply involved themselves to confront it; people choose to ignore it and blame even the worst of endings on bad luck; some don't even recognize the warning signs until it is too late.

Author info: Truman Capote, 1924-1984, was obsessed with writing from the age of 11. That said, he wrote few really successful works. Best known for In Cold Blood, a "non-ficton novel," Capote struggled to find his muse during creative periods of life, interspersed with periods of drug and alcohol abuse.

Language skills 6
Depth of meaning 7


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