Walter Kirn has penned countless essays, memoirs and novels. It's safe to say the strangest story he's ever written — truth or fiction — is Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade, where he delves into his relationship with a man he knew as wealthy East Coast elitist Clark Rockefeller, who turned out to be an imposter and murderer.
Shawn Vestal, who will join Kirn for a discussion at Get Lit!, shared of the book via email that he was "perhaps most struck by his penetrating examination of himself," noting he was "fascinated by the degree of honesty/exposure in that."
We talked to Kirn about his starring role as a con man's victim:
INLANDER: As Clark's background was revealed, when did you think of writing about him?
KIRN: When I first met him over the phone, I knew almost instantly that he was an eccentric of singular dimension. And I was well aware in the back of my head that it might be fruitful to write about him one day ... As the years went by, I completely set aside that plan. When it was revealed that he was involved with this murder, I suddenly took the brakes off ... When it really landed in my psyche that he was a killer, I revisited that decision to not write about him and thought, "Walter, you idiot! You're a writer. Your duty is to the page, to the story, and you kind of wimped out a little bit there." Then again, there was no real story until his true identity was revealed. But once it was, I guess I made up for lost time.
Was it difficult to recall moments for the book?
Luckily, when you meet someone like Clark Rockefeller, you remember very clearly your interactions. Because he was like no one else I'd ever known. His nonstop zaniness and eccentricity and outlandish storytelling stuck in my memory like a dart. I really had no difficulty recalling the time I spent with him.
Why reveal such personal aspects about your life and family in the book?
Clark Rockefeller is a liar and imposter and nothing he ever said was true. And he clouded his life as assiduously as possible. This book, in order to work, had to be about what it was in me to be vulnerable to such a person. In some ways, he can't be known. And in some ways, as a psychopath, there's not a lot to know, because I'm convinced these people are radically different from you and I, and are empty in a way that I think is astonishing ... A con is a dance, it's a tango between two personalities. And the personality and life I knew best was my own, so I set out to forensically reconstruct my own role in the con. My own self-deceptions, my own failures of skepticism and analytical acumen.
Was it depressing to delve into your own role as a victim?
It wasn't so much depressing as it was disconcerting, disturbing. There aren't many cases in life when we find out we've been wronged, and then have a chance to really minutely examine all the ways we were fooled, tricked, deceived ... As I sat at that murder trial, it was a little bit like having a magic trick you've been fooled by patiently explained, and you see, "Oh, there's where I looked in the wrong direction" ... Because I was able to gain this awful clarity about the way I was deceived, I had a feeling of being chilled by how vulnerable I was, and I think we all are, to those who patiently, cunningly, set out to abuse our trust. ♦
In Conversation with Walter Kirn and Shawn Vestal • Fri, April 24, at 7 pm • $15/students free • Riverside Place Commandery Room • 1110 W. Riverside