Kirn's one-of-a-kind story of being duped by a real-life Mr. Ripley takes us on a bizarre and haunting journey from the posh private clubrooms of Manhattan to the hard-boiled courtrooms and prisons of Los Angeles. As Kirn uncovers the truth about his friend, a psychopath masquerading as a gentleman, he also confronts hard truths about himself. Why, as a writer of fiction, was he susceptible to the deception of a sinister fantasist whose crimes, Kirn learns, were based on books and movies? What are the hidden psychological links between the artist and the con man? To answer these and other questions, Kirn attends his old friend s murder trial and uses it as an occasion to reflect on both their tangled personal relationship and the surprising literary sources of Rockefeller's evil. This investigation of the past climaxes in a tense jailhouse reunion with a man whom Kirn realizes he barely knew a predatory, sophisticated genius whose life, in some respects, parallels his own and who may have intended to take another victim during his years as a fugitive from justice: Kirn himself.
Combining confessional memoir, true crime reporting, and cultural speculation, Blood Will Out is a Dreiser-esque tale of self-invention, upward mobility, and intellectual arrogance. It exposes the layers of longing and corruption, ambition and self-delusion beneath the Great American con."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-01-13
- Reviewer: Staff
In the summer of 1998, Kirn (Up In the Air) was a struggling writer, taking assignments where he could get them, when he accepted an odd task: transporting a crippled dog from a Montana animal shelter to New York City, where a wealthy benefactor from the Rockefeller family eagerly awaited its arrival. That alone could have made for a quirky riff on Steinbeck’s classic Travels with Charley, but Kirn’s road trip took another turn entirely as he entered a wild and murky 15-year friendship with the man who called himself “Clark Rockefeller”—a man who would eventually be the target of a nationwide FBI manhunt and charged with murder. Kirn artfully relates how the man born as Christian Gerhartstreiter manipulated those around him, operating against a backdrop of elite mens’ clubs, expensive art, constant name-dropping, and tales of wealth and sophistication. The parallels with Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley are not lost on Kirn, who spends as much time trying to understand how he and others fell under Gerhartstreiter’s spell as he does relating the primary tale of the criminal himself. Kirn’s candor, ear for dialogue, and crisp prose make for a masterful true crime narrative that is impossible to put down. The book deserves to become a classic. Agent: Eric Simonoff, William Morris Entertainment. (Mar.)
Under the spell of a con man
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, March 2014
Walter Kirn has penned a number of imaginative novels, including Up in the Air and Thumbsucker, which were both made into movies. But nothing in the pages of those books could match the bizarre, real-life experiences Kirn relates in his new memoir, Blood Will Out.
Here is the Hollywood elevator pitch: Kirn befriends a con artist who passes himself off as an aristocrat, but turns out to be a murderer. Over a 15-year friendship, Kirn discovers he has more in common with this charlatan than he cares to acknowledge. Thus, Blood Will Out is as much a psychological thriller as it is a true crime tale.
The story is full of surprises and strange twists from the beginning, where we find Kirn a promising young author living in Montana with his very young wife, Maggie. He is 34; she is 19. She also happens to be the daughter of actress Margot Kidder and novelist Thomas McGuane. Kirn is struggling as a writer, popping Ritalin to complete a project, then Ambien to induce sleep. Maggie is pregnant and working in an animal shelter. A disabled shelter dog is in need of a home, and a man identifying himself as Clark Rockefeller agrees to the adoption and will pay a generous fee to the person who delivers the crippled canine to New York City. So Kirn seizes the opportunity to drive the dog, incontinent and confined to a wheelchair, to meet this supposed scion of the wealthy East Coast family.
Charmed by this dilettante, Kirn ignores all the warning signs throughout more than a decade of correspondence, phone calls and visits with Clark Rockefeller, who turns out to be Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a German immigrant wanted in the murder of a California man and the disappearance of his wife.
On one level, Blood Will Out is a murder mystery. But Kirn drills deeper, channeling his inner Fitzgerald to probe his own psyche. Kirn likens himself to a modern-day Nick Carraway, with Clark Rockefeller a later-day Jay Gatsby, who passes himself off as wealthy and erudite. Then Kirn wonders whether he is any better. Like Fitzgerald, Kirn was a naïve boy from Minnesota who ended up at Princeton. There, he developed an edgy persona, fueled by drugs and alcohol, to gain popularity as a writer, becoming a con man in his own way.
Blood Will Out is equally dark, edgy, humorous and philosophical. Ultimately, it is a book that proves truth is stranger than fiction.