A Personality Problem

Author likability and its relationship to a writer’s work: I’m sure I’ve discussed it here somewhere. I know for a fact I was scribbling all about it (film-wise) a couple of years ago, in regard to more Woody Allen child abuse allegations, wringing my hands about the fact that I still couldn’t keep myself from watching– and often relishing– his films. That particular situation was one fraught with profound moral and ethical questions; the case most recently before me now, on the other hand, doesn’t merit any loss of sleep.

Walter Kirn’s Blood Will Out tells the true story of his relationship with a criminally manipulative shapeshifter, including said villain’s trial for murder. It’s a quick and interesting read, and Kirn does question, although not all that deeply, just what it is that makes otherwise intelligent people fall victim to patent baloney. I’m not really upset about the anti-star of this tale, a man who floated along for decades swindling streams of people and killing at least one, if not more, of them; the guy’s inveterate exploitation of and derision for humanity in general is so pathological as to be objective and unavoidable, dandified in a particular way, but an unchangeable and irrefutable manifestation of evil nonetheless. No, it’s Kirn himself, or maybe his self-presentation, that turned a gawk-worthy account of a near-inhuman trickster into something pockmarked with annoyance at the narrator.

Lynn Donaldson for The New York Times

Lynn Donaldson for The New York Times

Kirn’s seemingly casual, oh-well confessions about his personal failings might have been a way for him to assure us that, in spite of having Ivy League creds, he’s still part of good old normal, non-snotty humanity. (This in spite of also appearing to show that same sense of privileged and oblivious contempt for others that his killer protagonist does, even if not trying to swindle or harm anybody.*) I don’t know; the elephant in the room seemed to be the author’s not knowing quite where he really fit in, or wanted to fit in– and the unvoiced struggle with that displacement somehow made him seem to try too hard to be rough around the edges, not quite genuine.

It’s something we all most likely struggle with, I know, and so I should probably be more forgiving, especially about a piece that was never advertised as a project in literary profundity, and which really did throw the author for a loop about who he thought he’d been, in terms of his ability to sniff out b.s. and to read people. Maybe. For now, I’m just hoping the vague irritation will dissipate, and leave me with another one of those accounts of just how bizarre, and credulous, humans can be.

 

* (One of those times involved visiting his former friend in prison; the way in which he described the other visitors waiting to see their own friends and family was somehow a blanket dismissal of their situations, many of which probably involved a great deal of injustice, both institutional and personal, that had brought them there in the first place.)

 

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