Book Reviews


If you think back to 2008, you might remember the case of a man who went by Clark Rockefeller. He kidnapped his daughter and led the police on a weeklong chase. The trial became a national media story. Not only because of the kidnapping but because everything about Rockefeller turned out not to be a fraud, including the name. Well, now a new book is out about the case called "Blood Will Out." It's by Walter Kirn.

And Meg Wolitzer has our review.

MEG WOLITZER: Most writers have to scrounge for a subject. Trying to come up with an idea, they might buy themselves a ticket to a far-flung place, or join an Iditarod team. But it's rare to stumble on an idea that's so exciting, it practically has a sign around its neck saying: write me. Except that's pretty much what happened to Walter Kirn. When this book begins, he's living in Montana. The woman he was married to at the time worked for an animal charity, and she talks him into driving a disabled dog to a devoted dog lover in New York.

As it turns out, the dog lover is a pretentious and unpleasant guy named Clark Rockefeller. And as it further turns out, Clark Rockefeller isn't exactly whom he says he is. It seems that Rockefeller's real name was Christian Gerhartsreiter. He was a liar who's now serving 27 years to life for a murder he committed long before Kirn met him.

"Blood Will Out" is a page turner. It's the story of the friendship between these two men which ended when Rockefeller was unmasked and, as they say, brought to justice. Clark, who isn't really Clark but who I'll refer to by that name to make things simpler, comes off as an empty, creepy husk of a person. And even though Kirn is an eloquent narrator, he's gullible, which can be endearing. But he's also excited by Clark's money and pedigree. And he's not alone in that.

Of course, you might think to yourself that you'd never fall for the absurd lies of Clark Rockefeller. This is a guy who, when he hears that Walter is having problems with his taxes, scribbles down a number and urges Walter to call. Here, he said, call George, as in George Bush, the president. It's his private line.

And even if you did fall for all this, you think to yourself that you still wouldn't allow a friendship to go on, because Clark definitely isn't fun to be with. But the way Kirn tells it, I felt like it was entirely possible that I would have been similarly taken in. He describes a kind of lazy vanity in the idea that a really rich and powerful person likes you.

And Kirn wasn't the only one who fell for the impostor. Plenty of people did, including the very accomplished businesswoman and Harvard graduate who married him and had a child with him.

Ultimately, Walter Kirn turned the tables on Clark Rockefeller by writing a tremendously readable book about him. He invokes Jay Gatsby and "The Talented Mr. Ripley." And he shows us the way one individual, by simply dropping names all over the place, not wearing socks and never having a wallet on hand, can get alarmingly far in a country founded on self-invention.

BLOCK: The book is "Blood Will Out" by Walter Kirn. Our reviewer is Meg Wolitzer.

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