The complicated, credulity-straining relationship between the author and his subject leaves the reader wondering about both of them.
This is a book about two very strange characters. One is best known as Clark Rockefeller, “the most prodigious serial imposter in recent history,” a convicted murderer, a kidnapper and a psychopath. The other is Kirn (My Mother's Bible: A Son Discovers Clues to God, 2013, etc.), a respected journalist and novelist who admits that he initially intended to exploit his relationship with his subject for a book but belatedly discovered that his subject had been exploiting him. “What a perfect mark I’d been,” writes the author. “Rationalizing, justifying, imagining. I’d worked as hard at being conned by him as he had at conning me.” The story begins, oddly enough, with the author agreeing to deliver a crippled dog from his home in Montana to the stranger with the famous surname in Manhattan. Why? He was having some financial troubles, and this unlikely scenario might result in a book. One would think that a writer with this much journalistic experience and accomplishment might do some basic background checking, yet he not only fell for the increasingly outlandish stories his source spun, he also decided to protect the relationship by refusing to write about it, even though, on first meeting, he found the purported Rockefeller “instantly annoying.” The author also describes using Ritalin to meet deadlines and Ambien to catch a few hours of sleep, carrying a gun while on assignment, marrying a girl little more than half his age after a whirlwind courtship and basically establishing himself as an unreliable narrator of a nonfiction book. After initially defending his friend’s identity against mounting evidence to the contrary, he decided to cash in: “He was conning me, but I was also conning him. The liar and murderer and heaven knows what else was correct about the writer: I betrayed him.”
A book that casts long-form narrative journalism in general, and Kirn’s in particular, in an unflattering light.