Some truths, if fictionalized, just wouldn’t be believable. Walter Kirn’s memoir “Blood Will Out” is of that ilk. Quirky characters abound, none quirkier than the book’s subject, Clark Rockefeller himself. But quirky oozes into sinister and downright evil quickly. Clark Rockefeller is no Rockefeller. He’s Christian Gerhartsreiter, German national and con man extraordinaire (but let’s call him Rockefeller; that’s what he likes to be called). Clark’s fairly unbelievable himself. His grandiose lies—he has the keys to Rockefeller Center, he owns a jet propulsion lab and is close personal friends with J.D Salinger—appear remotely possible to Kirn. The rich are different, they say. But when the effusive yet enigmatic gentleman kidnaps his own daughter, his cover is blown, and even more chillingly, he’s linked to an unsolved eighties murder.
Kirn jumps around in time, interviewing friends of the murdered man, recounting his dinners with Clark, and attending Rockefeller’s trial, where the man acts as if Kirn didn’t even exist. This isn’t an investigation into psychopathy; it’s an appraisal of a relationship.“Blood Will Out” refuses to put the phony Rockefeller into a diagnostic box. Kirn takes culpability for the factors and events that led him to believe this offbeat man. In one scene, Rockefeller shows Kirn a photo of the so-called propulsion lab. All Kirn sees is treetops, and by this point, he should know better, yet he still squints, willingly, at the image. While the author of two novels made into movies, “Thumbsucker” and “Up In The Air,” Kirn’s also a Montana boy, divorced father, and writer who lives on the vagaries of freelancing. This friendship is the kind of association he’s always craved. So what if he always picks up Clark’s check?
In “Blood Will Out” Kirn uses the phrase “cannibal of souls” to describe Clark’s habit of taking personal details and spinning them into his own narrative. Rockefeller never tells the truth, not even in prison. Kirn’s narrative isn’t so much interested in the truth, but how everything got the way it was. The pithy prose makes for a fast read—yet the intimate and penetrating dissection draws out the pleasure. The truth is a good story. (Liz Baudler)
“Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery and a Masquerade”
By Walter Kirn
Liveright, 272 pages, $25.95