on March 17, 2014
I bought this book after hearing Walter Kirn interviewed on NPR's "Fresh Air." I was looking forward to an in-depth look at someone with a serious personality disorder and worldview deeply out of step with reality. I expected this to be about the subject's issues; I did not expect the author's neuroses and self-absorption completely overshadow the murderer. I am not at all surprised Walter Kirn was taken in by "Clark Rockefeller", as Mr. Kirn's exceptional cluelessness seems to beg to be taken advantage of. My goodness, he graduated from Princeton but my goodness, he did not fit in, but in case you forget, he graduated from Princeton and my goodness, has rubbed shoulders with ALL SORTS OF WEALTHY PEOPLE. Golly gee whiz! It's no wonder he falls for the extremely unlikely circumstances in his VERY FIRST CONVERSATION with "Clark Rockefeller"-- but not surprising to this reader. And it just gets worse from there. (But oh, the author mentions AGAIN he graduated from Princeton.)
The first chapter, of the bringing of a seriously disabled dog via pick-up truck 2000 miles from Montana to New York City, was excruciating for this reader: did it never occur to him that a dog with a spinal injury might have issues with urination and defecation? And did it never occur to him that long-distance driving with such an animal might be challenging? But thankfully, his mother comes to his rescue and....
Even if you really, really really think there's more in this than you can get out of a Wikipedia article, rest assured, you'll find plenty of copies remaindered, at used book sales, and in the free bin at your local library. I feel terribly misled by NPR's interview, and I'm sorry I spent the money on a hardback copy of this book.
on April 13, 2014
I was so looking forward to reading this story. I mean, what an absolutely fascinating tale. How did this man get away with deluding everyone for so long? Why did he start? Why did he commit murder? Unfortunately, the author makes this book all about himself rather than his subject. If you want to read about Walter Kirn's troubles with drugs and wives and insecurity, you'll be happy enough. However, if you were hoping to read about the con artist/kidnapper/murderer you may have thought this book was about, you will be disappointed. I started getting disillusioned about halfway through, and was just plain irritated when I finished. Shame on this self-indulgent, narcissistic author.
on April 6, 2014
Some of the negative reviews of this book have commented that it is more about Kirn than Rockefeller. There is some truth to this. However, it would be more accurate to say that it was more about their relationship than Rockefeller. Also, what would be the point of writing a straightforward book about Rockefeller himself? This has already been done on multiple occasions and by Kirn's own acknowledgement, done quite well. The book was written specifically because of Kirn's unique interactions with him. I also think that Kirn himself comes off somewhat badly in the book in terms of what his "friendship" with Rockefeller says about Kirn himself and I have little doubt that but for Rockefeller's supposed last name, the "friendship" would never have lasted. Of course, in fairness, Kirn is hardly self-exculpatory about his actions--to the contrary, he is extremely hard on himself about it.
I would have given the book 5 stars just because I think that Kirn is such a wonderful writer and has such incredible powers of observation and analysis. There were a few things that bothered me however, which, cumulatively, added up to the loss of a star. First, as a few others have noted, the book is like a chronological pinball--it bounces all over the place. Forwards, backwards, forwards again, endlessly. To some extent, I see the reason for this, because it is in part about reflection on the past and it was never intended as a straight-ahead murder mystery. Still, I thought it was a bit excessive. Second, I didn't really like the way Kirn went into fairly detailed plot summaries of movie after movie after movie (with a few tv shows and books thrown in for good measure). I felt that the book dragged at these points. Finally, he has an odd capacity for simultaneous self-flagellation and self-congratulation. For every time he has one of this "how could I be so stupid as to be sucked in by this guy" moments, there is another where he reminds us (and possibly himself) of his gilded resume, including Princeton (seemingly 1000 mentions), Oxford (ditto), being a published novelist whose books have been made into movies, a magazine cover story writer, etc. etc. I understand the desire to point out this odd juxtaposition at least once but it seems that he did so repeatedly. Still, on balance, I certainly recommend the book.
on July 12, 2014
While the story of "Clark Rockefeller" is an interesting one, it would be much better suited in a Wikipedia article.
The story opens with Kirn's happy-go-lucky 90's life, married to the teenage daughter of a writer and a movie star, being interrupted by a phone call from Rockefeller, prompting him to go on an adventure back East with a disabled dog who, although the audience feels sympathy for, Walter sees as an obstacle to overcome to get to his prize: an in with a high-society Rockefeller. With Kirn assuming that this would be the low point of the story(while really, it was the highest), he adds in a few dozen anecdotes about his time at Princeton, his Ritalin abuse, and his clulessness about absolutely everything(which, I will admit, had me doubting the reality of my knowledge). He eventually gets sick of letting the dog out of his pick-up to piss every hour, the process of which is described in great detail, and calls up his mom to get him and the dog on a plane, which was strictly against Clark's instructions. In spite of this, when Walt lands, Clark is there to meet him and pays him $500 for the job. With Kirn wanting more, he becomes the socialite's friend. That is where the plot ends. The next ten chapters are the court case and more existential pondering about himself, Clark, and his own general stupidity.
This book was a huge let down. Advertises itself as a thriller novel, I expected some form of horror, some recollection of a time when he was at his weakest and Clark could have killed him whenever he liked. Alas, that was not present, and the book lacked any form of plot. It laces facts with Kirn's thoughts. The only character whose description wasn't laced entirely with Kirn's stupidity was the only other of Walt's friends we are introduced to: fellow writer and pseudo-investigator, James Ellroy. Ellroy's dialogue is intriguing, while his character is not fully fleshed-out, the only information we are given on him being about his memoir on the murder of his mother and the effects it had on his life. He is presented as a wise, experienced hand, guiding our writer along his journey, searching for answers, racing against the lawyers and police and investigators trying to get to the bottom of all the questions he had about Clark, questions that Clark, himself, refused to answer. Kirn is advised to give up by Ellroy, which, perhaps, I should have taken myself. I expected an ending, a point to all these ramblings I was presented by Kirn, but in the end, I was given nothing but a 250-page wikipedia article(mixed with the ramblings of a mentally challenged mad-man[Kirn]) on Walter and Clark's relationship. Throughout the book's later chapters, we are given bits and pieces of information we expect to receive an ending conclusion to, but all we get is a confrontation between Kirn and the crippled dog's previous owner, discussing the dog's true death.
DO NOT waste your money on this book. It will bring nothing but frustration to you. But, if you must read the entire bibliography of this one-hit-wonder, then be my guest. Hell, I'll even give you my copy.
on March 24, 2014
Do you know what a humblebrag is? It's when someone boasts about his status or activities while pretending to be self-effacing. For example: 'I have nothing to wear to the Oscars!' or 'The worst thing about climbing Mt. Everest is that I can't get a phone signal.'
Walter Kirn has pulled off not a one-line humblebrag but a 250-page one. In relating his relationship with a con man--whom we first met in Mark Seal's superior 'The Man in the Rockefeller Suit'--he never lets us forget that he's a rural Midwestern boy who wound up in the Ivy League and later befriended some kind of alleged American aristocrat who took him into his world...only to be exposed as yet another fool (albeit one who marries a movie star's daughter and gets to hang out with George Clooney too, among other unabashedly out-of-place details) when the guy turned out to be a serial liar, thief, kidnapper and, ultimately, murderer. What I thought would provide a satisfying ending to the unfinished story in Seal's book (at the time, the murder trial had not taken place) turned out to be a self-indulgent step back as we skim the surface of 'Clark Rockefeller's' rise and fall. If this is what hanging out with rich snobs does to a person, I'll just stay home and watch Netflix. One star.
on March 11, 2014
Many reviews of Blood Will Out make this point, but it can't be stressed enough that this was one crazy story. I knew nothing of Clark Rockefeller before I read this, and if you are looking for a detailed history of the criminal case this probably isn't the book for you. But Kirn does an excellent job of describing what it was like to be taken in by a con man, and it was realy interesting to read about what it was like to see the onetime object of Kirn's admiration completely fall apart. As an aside, Kirn himself seems to have led quite an interesting life! I'd like to know more about him - hobnobbing with Kennedys, married to Lois Lane's daughter… I'm waiting for his biography!
on May 8, 2014
Having read Mark Seal's fascinating 'The Man in the Rockefeller Suit,' published before Clark Rockefeller's trial and conviction for murder, I was eager to get hold of Walter Kirn's 'Blood Will Out,' since Kirn, who actually knew the pseudo-Rockefeller personally and attended the trial, was in a position to give new insight into the mysterious impersonator.
I was greatly disappointed. The book could have been titled "Walter Kirn's Messy Personal Life -- With a Few Comments on Clark Rockefeller." Kirn constantly departs from the story of Clark Rockefeller's serial impersonations to tell us far more than we want to know about his failed marriage, his struggles as a writer, etc. For every paragraph about the Clark Rockefeller story, Kirn gives us pages about his own life. He seems less interested in who Clark Rockefeller is and what he did than in how Walter Kirn was affected by the events. If you removed the interminable (and dull) autobiographical material and the incessant, intrusive self-reflection, the book would have only a third as many pages.
By now you will realize that the headline of this review refers at least as much to the author as to the purported subject, Clark Rockefeller. If Rockefeller parasitized the lives of those he encountered in order to create a phony life of his own, Kirn parasitizes the Clark Rockefeller story to obtrude his own uninteresting life upon the reading public.
Poetic justice, perhaps. But it doesn't make the book worth reading. One can only hope that Mark Spear will put out a new edition of 'The Man in the Rockefeller Suit', bringing the story up to date. That is, if Kirn has not already killed all interest in the subject.
on March 26, 2014
July 2008 brought one of those strange stories that seem to surface each year to interrupt our summer torpor, as the media reported that a man known as Clark Rockefeller was wanted for the kidnapping of his seven-year-old daughter in Boston. When the police caught up with him in Baltimore, they soon discovered their quarry didn't occupy even a remote branch on the tree of the prominent American business and political family. Instead, he was a German immigrant named Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, whose tangled life story yielded more questions than answers.
That incident inspired Amity Gaige's 2013 novel, SCHRODER. Now, novelist (UP IN THE AIR, MISSION TO AMERICA) and journalist (LOST IN THE MERITOCRACY) Walter Kirn has fleshed out Rockefeller/Gerhartsreiter's bizarre past in this complex, troubling and, above all, self-revealing account of his 10-year friendship with the serial imposter, someone Kirn thought of as "a singular figure in my life and a subject of frequent contemplation."
If ever a friendship started under unusual circumstances, it was this one. In the summer of 1998, Kirn, married and living on a heavily mortgaged Montana ranch with his first child on the way, was enlisted to transport a crippled Gordon setter to Rockefeller, who had purchased the dog online from acquaintances of Kirn’s wife. From their first encounter in New York, when Rockefeller, a self-described "freelance central banker," proposed an after-hours tour of Rockefeller Center ("the family's place") that never materialized and invited his new friend to his apartment (next door to Tony Bennett's, he said) to show off his collection of Rothkos and Motherwells, the relationship, in Kirn’s mind, was never one of equals.
But Clark's lies weren't limited to non-existent jobs or works of art that turned out to be fakes; he also claimed friendships with an absurdly large and diverse collection of celebrities, from Britney Spears to Germany's Chancellor Helmut Kohl. In 2002, Kirn visited Clark's ramshackle farmhouse in Cornish, New Hampshire, hometown of J.D. Salinger, where Rockefeller dangled the prospect of introducing Kirn to the reclusive novelist. When Kirn offhandedly mentioned a problem with the IRS, Rockefeller handed over what he said was then-President George Bush's private phone number (a number Kirn never dared to try).
Even at his best, Rockefeller's creepiness seemed to have outweighed his charm. Despite finding Clark "instantly annoying" and despite the implausibility of just about everything the man said, even after the 2008 kidnapping, Kirn was willing, for a time, to suspend his disbelief. Whether that credulousness resulted from his awe at his friend's pedigree, or the fact that for a time they had shared the status of divorced fathers, he eventually concedes his involvement in an "unbalanced, insulting relationship that had gone on too long and grown disfiguring."
By the time Kirn found himself covering Rockefeller's 2013 Los Angeles trial for a 1985 murder (committed while he had assumed yet another identity as a minor British aristocrat) that involved burying the victim's dismembered body in plastic bags, any empathy he may have felt for his one-time friend had been burned away. Possessed of that emotional freedom, Kirn crisply describes a case in which "not only was the evidence circumstantial, so was the defendant," as a parade of other self-deceived witnesses took the stand while Rockefeller watched, seemingly detached (as one might expect from a man so adept at shedding his identity only to assume a new one) from the often grisly narrative unfolding before him. Kirn connects Rockefeller's story to novels like Patricia Highsmith's THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, concluding, somewhat melodramatically, that Rockefeller, also a fan of film noir, "killed for literature."
Visiting Clark in jail after his murder conviction, Kirn found him "still portraying the man I'd known, a patrician Lotos Club member, unceremoniously displaced." But the act of producing this book afforded Kirn a certain measure of revenge against his deceiver, as he admits he'd considered writing about Rockefeller when they'd met, but had abandoned that plan "in deference to our friendship." Given the foundation of duplicity on which their relationship had been constructed, he doesn't find that about-face at all troubling: "Writers exist to exploit such figures," he concludes. "Our duty is to the page, not the person."
Kirn's self-portrait suggests a judgment on himself that’s almost as harsh as the one the justice system rendered against Clark Rockefeller, a man who, from the first, was more a construct than a human being. "Rationalizing, justifying, imagining," he writes, "I'd worked as hard at being conned by him as he had at conning me. I wasn't a victim; I was a collaborator." While few of us will ever encounter the sort of sociopath Kirn portrays here with such precision, his chilling memoir offers a disturbing reminder that our capacity for self-deception is nearly limitless.
Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg
on April 7, 2014
I didn't care to know more about Clark Rockefeller after the news stories about him broke because he struck me as despicable and creepy. But when I learned that Walter Kirn had written a book about his "friendship" with the con man, I very much wanted to read it. Kirn's books and articles are always intelligent and highly readable. This one is no exception. Its strength is its focus on Kirn's thoughts and feelings about the bogus Clark Rockefeller, an empty suit who is not at all interesting apart from the author's reactions to him.
on March 19, 2014
This fascinating book is deceptive - it is not really, as the title may indicate, the story of the liar Clark Rockefeller. Rather, it is the story of how Rockefeller turned the author, Walter Kirn, into a liar to himself. By successfully decoding what makes Kirn tick, Rockefeller convinced him to believe, or at least accept, the most outrageous deceptions. Were this told from a third-person perspective, it would be merely another 'Lifetime' sob story. Instead, Kirn catalogs his own vanities, insecurities, and deeply hidden desires, all with radical honesty. A lesser book, and less honest explorer of his own psyche, would hide attempt to mask these deep, albeit common, character flaws. Instead, the author names them for what they are and then shows exactly how Rockefeller turned them to his advantage.
Blood Will Out lays bare the essential fact that we all trade in the currency of casual lies, told and believed, in order to help us believe that we, our lives, and our friends, are more magical than they really are. It is a fundamental vulnerability in human nature, and Kirn exposes it in the only way possible - by exposing it in himself. This could be a brutal experience, were it not for the wit and precision of the writing, and the essential empathy of the narrative.
I haven't been able to stop thinking about this book since I finished it. What troubles me most, is that I can't honestly say that I would see the liar in Rockefeller - but I'm pretty sure that Rockefeller would see the liar in me.