new by me at The Creators Project
The typically-imagined image of an inventor resembles a Frankensteinian mad scientist: cackling while lightning flashes about his person, his composite creation lumbering off the operating table (“It’s alive!”) and out of the laboratory to wreak havoc. In reality, this is usually not the case, but it isn’t completely insane to suggest that inventors on the cutting edges of technology and innovation draw many of the same mental pictures, and having the same ideas that we do.
Ideas like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if ___________?”
An Interview with Walter Kirn
Walter Kirn’s new memoir, Blood Will Out, chronicles his years-long friendship with convicted murderer Christian Gerhartsreiter—Clark Rockefeller to his friends. The book opens with Kirn driving a crippled dog across from Montana to New York and ends with Kirn facing Gerhartsreiter in prison, Gerhartsreiter having been convicted of murdering his landlady’s son.
Though Blood Will Out is primarily about the murderer, it also offers occasion for self-examination—just how did Gerhartsreiter convince so many people for so long?—and an exploration of some larger human truths about identity and gullibility. Kirn does not let himself off the hook. Far from it, sections of the book are almost uncomfortable in the degree that he self-flagellates. But this isn’t a book requesting your pity.
It’s a book that examines, unflinchingly, the lies we tell ourselves and allow others to tell in the spirit of human kinship. It’s about a man willing to exploit that human willingness to play along in service of his own villainous intent. Spanning many years and crossing the continent several times, Blood Will Out is a book that demands attention and might demand that you not put it down once you’ve cracked it.
I talked with Kirn over the phone about deception, the moment he knew, and Gerhartsreiter’s love poem about the German electoral system.
I. A RENAISSANCE OF VIRTUAL IMPOSTORHOOD
THE BELIEVER: This book is kind of all over the place.
WALTER KIRN: You never know when they’re going to be all over the place. Non-fiction beats fiction in that respect. It’s also a time now when people feel deceived by various government and corporate bodies, so the theme is probably relevant.
BLVR: It’s interesting. You cover this in your interview with yourself in the New York Times—
WK: [laughs] It’s not an entirely serious interview, but maybe I cover it. I don’t know.
BLVR: I was just talking about the fact that you really think that there couldn’t be a case of concealed identity these days because everything is so searchable.
WK: You’d think that but let me tell you something, Michael. I’m dealing this very second with concealed identities. I’ve been convinced that Christian Gerhartsreiter, a.k.a. Clark Rockefeller, has been writing one-star Amazon reviews. They’re all reviews where the reviewer has no history and makes the same point: “This book is too much about the author, not enough about the killer.” I just looked at saw that they all appear at the same time of day. I just saw another one and it used his famous initials, CC. He called himself at one point Christopher Crow and then Christopher Chichester. And this latest review is Christopher Corcoran on Amazon. In my first conversation with him, back in 1998, I told him I was a book reviewer and he said, “Oh! You should check out the Amazon review that I just wrote.”I print it, actually, in the beginning of the book—an excerpt of this one-star review—and he’s up to that same game from jail.
New by me.
An Interview with Lorrie Moore
I met Lorrie Moore in a cafe near Columbus Circle the publication week of her new collection, Bark, and in the midst of a whirlwind reading tour that had temporarily taken her from her visiting professor gig at Vanderbilt. She wore earrings with small airplanes dangling from them and at a point, one became tangled and she had to fiddle with it and replace it. It seemed like an apt metaphor for the slight but nagging discomfort of constant air travel. We both had beer, and she initially ordered a Blue Moon, but wound up settling for whatever they had on tap. Our conversation was wide-ranging and general, covering MFA programs, a loyalty to a team of her agent, editor, publisher, writing program, and Alice Munro. She, however, insisted that I not take notes; she was afraid of being misquoted. When I told her she didn’t need to worry, I had a recorder, she laughed and said, “That’s even worse!”
Since her first publication (Self-Help in 1985), Moore has stood out as a striking voice unafraid of any subject. Bark is the result of a long wait; her last original collection of stories (Birds of America) was published in 1998. Though she published A Gate at the Stairs in 2009, there is a special excitement around a Lorrie Moore short story collection.
Moore’s stories in Bark can read like miniature time capsules from a just-passed era. “Debarking” takes place against the backdrop of the Iraq War, “Foes” references 9/11 and the first Obama campaign, “Subject to Search” contains veiled hints toward Abu Ghraib. Still, each story contains timeless human truths about our interactions with the world around us. The exchange below took place over email.
THE BELIEVER: Both “Debarking” and “Foes” take place against a backdrop of political events that have to some degree left the public consciousness. Why set “Debarking” in an era of worry about the Iraq War rather than, say, the Great Recession? Similarly, what do you feel “Foes” gains by being in conversation with the tragedy of 9/11 and the first Obama campaign?
LORRIE MOORE: The settings were less “chosen” than experienced as an integral part of the story I was trying to construct. They were inspiration and fuel. “Debarking” was written in 2003 (when the invasion of Iraq occurred and was on everybody’s mind) and “Foes” was written in 2008 just before Obama was elected. That was an exciting year. I would like to live in that year forever.
BLVR: Can you elaborate on why?
LM: The Obama election. I don’t think the world gets more exciting than that.
BLVR: In many of these stories, there is the threat of physical violence hovering just beyond the page. “Debarking” and the war, “The Juniper Tree” and the car accident that claims Isabel’s arm to name a few examples. In “Paper Losses” you say the only commonality between men is a capability for extreme violence. What is the role of violence in your stories beyond as a backdrop or referent?
LM: There really is no more violence in the stories than there is in real life, and actually, when you think about it, much, much less. I’m trying to write about the way we live now, to borrow that old phrase.
New by me.