We love sociopaths. I was about to amend that to “fictional sociopaths,” but I think Nancy Grace, televised trials, and The Real Housewives of… prove me wrong. We love observing someone emotionally dead inside behaving badly. If they get caught, great. If they get caught and then wriggle out of the clutches of law and order, even better.
Why we love sociopaths is more difficult (and probably more personal). Some of us love a Tom Ripley because he created a better life for himself through whatever means necessary; the dark flip side to the American dream. But what’s important to Patricia Highsmith’s novels is that we are never asked to like any of Tom’s victims.
The Ripley novels crop up a lot in Walter Kirn’s Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade, a memoir of his friendship with Clark Rockefeller—a man who turned out to be not so much American royalty as a terrifying manipulative, murderous German con man. But instead of a glimpse into the mind of the man doing the conning, we have Kirn’s peeved, self-serving account of being conned. It’s like reading The Talented Mr. Ripley as told through the point of view of Freddie Miles, who is as eager to point out how wise he now is to the snake in the grass as he is eager to heap scorn upon his past, susceptible self. He’s ruthless in dissecting his desire for some of the Rockefeller glamour to rub off on him in the early days of his friendship with Clark—but he’s also almost giddy about mocking his naivete, a by-product of scrambling to make up for what is a giant, glaring blind spot in the eyes of a professional reporter.
In the end, Clark is convicted of a 1985 murder, and Kirn fashions some sort of “Eureka!” moment out of decades old emails and proto-blog posts. And you’ll be so exhausted from Kirn’s heavy-handed evocations of other, better accounts of the swathes cut by sociopaths that you’ll be eager to leave both the compulsive liar Clark and the compulsive questioner Kirn far behind.