Before you read what I have to say about Walter Kirn’s “BLOOD WILL OUT” – you ought to CLICK HERE ON THIS LINK to a New York Times interview with Kirn. By Kirn. Genius.
The blood-splash of a cover graphic and its subtitle; The True Story of a Murder, A Mystery, and A Masquerade, promises that Walter Kirn’s Blood Will Out is going to be a true-crime tale, and, while it is on the surface about the duping of Kirn by a con-man who called himself (among other aliases) Clark Rockefeller, a man the blurbs compare to Ripley and Gatsby, in fact, the real story is a bildungsroman about a culture of lost souls gone mad, addicted to the idea of ambition and accomplishment while unable to escape the inertia of entitlement.
The real mystery of the story is what has been learned?
Kirn’s prose is captivatingly stylish, provocative, confessional. The book is quick, a one-sitting sort of night out with a gifted raconteur. He’s been places we will never get to go, a balls-to-the-wall, live on the edge, daring and defiant, loaded pistol in the glove compartment, Ritalin dissolved in Dr Pepper kind of guy. And he tells his truth — his introspective, irony-soaked, been-there-done-that, literary cowboy truth — careful not to spare himself from his brand of eviscerating Zeitgeistian insight. Listen:
I lied on occasion, chiefly about sex. I could be two-faced around authority figures, kissing up to them while resenting them. At times I relished speaking caustically. And what I regarded as my trusting nature was, upon introspection, a kind of sloth. Instead of patiently working to get to know people, I’d decided that they were who I wanted them to be and discard them when they proved otherwise. This cycle of disappointment happened often. That it hadn’t come close to happening with Clark — that he never diverged from my fantasies about him — should have been a sign.
And later, Kirn refers to his own persona creating gambit:
“Being myself” at Princeton involved some guesswork, but eventually I settled on a persona. I bought a black thrift store raincoat and wore it everywhere, rarely taking my hands out of my pockets except when I had a chance to startle someone by whipping out my silver Zippo and lighting his cigarette with its oily flame. I wrote and helped direct a trio of imitation Beckett plays whose characters stood at strange angles to one another as they spoke their stiff, emphatic lines, which weren’t to be confused with natural speech because there is no such thing as natural speech, not in the theater and certainly not in life, the most artificial form of theater because it denies being theater at all. These were maxims I took from books by Frenchmen. The duty of the artist, I read somewhere, probably while I was smoking hash, which is when books about the artist’s duty most appealed to me, is to show that artifice is all. That’s why I wore my raincoat on clear days.
And he goes on, at some beautiful length, speaking of sex and image and paradigms lost and truth claims as opposed to truth and the deconstruction of self — which is the real subject of this memoir which uses a crime-story as scaffolding. It has been compared to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, but Blood – while brilliantly shaped – was all about subterfuge and Capote’s spin; he was author as grifter, re-shaping narrative and treating fact and truth as nagging details, entirely disposable if they got in the way of his beautiful deception. Kirn, on the other hand, is picking away at the scabs of mendacity and flim-flam, investigating his willingness to be beguiled.
In the process, he entrances the reader. And he makes no promises that the truth has been or is being told.
We all understand that you can’t predict the future, but getting to know an old friend, however perversely, through his murder trial, reveals a truth less commonly acknowledged : you can’t predict the past. It can change at any time. … When fresh information discredits past perceptions, the underlying memories remain but they no longer hold their old positions; you’re left to draw a new map with displaced landmarks. You thought you were found but you realize that you were lost, and someday you may discover that you’re lost now.
That is a paragraph worthy of Joan Didion — there can be no higher praise — and answers the question posed earlier, “What have we learned?” That, perhaps, no matter what we think we have learned, there is more there than we see, or, seeing more somewhere along the way will alter what we saw before, that time and reality and truth are plastic things.
Blood Will Out is a thought-provoking, deeply felt, timely book about spin and the duplicity of self, the ways we all indulge in pretending to be who we imagine we are, and in allowing others their own delusions and deceptions – that we might be allowed our own.
Read it. Why not buy your copy at your local independent bookseller, as I did. My favorite place in Frederick, Maryland other than the comfort of my own bedroom/batcave, The Curious Iguana [CLICK HERE], a local, independent bookseller and friendly place to hang and meet people with an acceptable level of delusion and deception.