Reading Into a Murky Past
Walter Kirn’s new book, “Blood Will Out,” reviewed by Nina Burleigh this week, details his friendship with Clark Rockefeller. Rockefeller was eventually unmasked as Christian Gerhartsreiter, and in 2013 was convicted of a murder that had occurred nearly 30 years earlier. He confessed to Kirn that the inspiration for his alter ego came from “The Great Gatsby.” “Surprisingly, he told me he didn’t identify with the character of Gatsby so much as he did with Nick, the narrator,” Kirn said in an email interview. “I think he was lying about this. I think he knew that I, like Nick, and like Fitzgerald, had grown up in Minnesota; he wanted to get in good with me by creating a sense of having something in common.”
“Gatsby” wasn’t the only literary lens through which Kirn came to view his former friend. “It’s hard not to think of Dostoyevsky when one thinks of Clark,” he said. “He never stopped confessing in some way, never stopped daring the world to find him out.”
After Gerhartsreiter was sentenced to prison, he accused Kirn of betrayal. “He’d seen a piece I’d done about the trial in The New Yorker, and he was livid,” Kirn said. “I countered that I’d simply obeyed my nature as a writer by telling the story of the strangest, most intriguing human being I’d ever known.”
“I want to leave a great literary legacy. I will leave legal documents so no one can ever co-opt my characters or write an Ellroy knockoff book, like when Robert B. Parker finished a Raymond Chandler novel.” — James Ellroy, in an interview with ShortList magazine
Writing on the Rails
“I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers.” This innocent daydream, expressed by the author Alexander Chee in a December interview with PEN America, has become a reality. Chee’s expressed preference for working on trains was echoed on Twitter by the writer Jessica Gross, and Amtrak responded, tweeting: “We’d need a test run. You two up for a trip to Chicago and back?”
Gross took that trip to Chicago, and Chee is scheduled to travel from New York to Portland, Ore., in May. He will use the time to work on his third novel.
“When I write fiction, I feel the need to vanish in general,” Chee said in an email interview. “It almost doesn’t matter where, except that I won’t be found until I’m done. When you’re somewhere no one knows you, the need to be the reliable self you agreed to be to the people you know goes away. And when I’m on a train, even the connection to the place gives way, and this amplifies the whole effect.”
Amtrak told the website The Wire that its goal is to “engage with writers several times a month,” and that it plans to keep the trips free or low-cost for participants.