IN COLD BLOOD, by Truman Capote (1966)
A classic is a piece of literature that catches its audience by surprise and exceeds the reader’s expectations (no matter how high those expectations are). In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, is a true and very human classic. Shocking, beautiful and ugly at once. The story of the 1959 Clutter family murders in the rural town of Holcomb, Kansas—two men broke into the Clutter’s home in the early hours with robbery on their minds and murdered every person in the house. While relating this morbid tale, In Cold Blood, captures a humanity that makes it larger than this single crime, or any of the individuals involved, and creates something deeper and more universal.
RAPE: A LOVE STORY, by Joyce Carol Oates (2003)
Rape: A Love Story, is vengeance tale worthy of Joyce Carol Oates’ talent, and its serious subject matter. When a single mother is raped in front of her young daughter, left for dead, and the judicial system falters—the victim’s character is smeared and the rapists are seen as victims—an uninterested party takes an interest to ensure a kind of justice is done. Told from the young girl’s perspective, it concentrates less on the physical aspects of revenge and more on the psychological. The fear, hate, and finally a compromised recovery. A serious and dark story about a serious and dark subject.
WORD OF HONOR by Nelson DeMille (1985)
Word of Honor reads like The Caine Mutiny as a Vietnam story. Ben Tyson is accused of murder for a massacre occurring in a hospital during the Tet offensive, February 1968, eighteen years after it happened. At this late date, as the lone officer involved, Tyson is the only member of the platoon—Alpha Company of the 7th Cavalry—that can be tried for the crime and the US Army opens a court-martial for murder. DeMille reveals the massacre’s details slowly, ratcheting the tension tighter and tighter. The outcome is little surprise, but it ends exactly how it should and even more importantly the novel says something about humanity and war, and America’s Vietnam experience.