With the 1965 publication of In Cold Blood, Truman Capote declared he broke new literary ground. But Capote’s “nonfiction novel” belongs to a long Naturalist tradition originating in the work of 19th-century French novelist Emile Zola. Naturalism offers a particular response to the increasing problem of violence in American life and its sociological implications.
This book traces the origins of the fact-based homicide novel that emerged in the mainstream of American literature with works such as Frank Norris’s McTeague and flourished in the twentieth century with works such as Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and Richard Wright’s Native Son. At their heart is a young man isolated from community who acts out in desperate circumstances against someone who reflects his isolation. A tension develops between how society views this killer and the way he is viewed by the novelist. The crimes central to these narratives epitomize the vast gap between those who can aspire to the so-called “American dream” and those with no realistic chance of achieving it.