Recent work written by Walter Kirn
Blood Will Out:
The True Story of Murder, a Mystery and a Masquerade
Genre: Non-Fiction/True Crime
Description: In the summer of 1998, Walter Kirn—then an aspiring novelist struggling with impending fatherhood and a dissolving marriage—set out on a peculiar, fateful errand: to personally deliver a crippled hunting dog from his home in Montana to the New York apartment of one Clark Rockefeller, a secretive young banker and art collector who had adopted the dog over the Internet. Thus began a fifteen-year relationship that drew Kirn deep into the fun-house world of an outlandish, eccentric son of privilege who ultimately would be unmasked as a brazen serial impostor, child kidnapper, and brutal murderer.
Kirn’s one-of-a-kind story of being duped by a real-life Mr. Ripley takes us on a bizarre and haunting journey from the posh private clubrooms of Manhattan to the hard-boiled courtrooms and prisons of Los Angeles. As Kirn uncovers the truth about his friend, a psychopath masquerading as a gentleman, he also confronts hard truths about himself. Why, as a writer of fiction, was he susceptible to the deception of a sinister fantasist whose crimes, Kirn learns, were based on books and movies? What are the hidden psychological links between the artist and the con man? To answer these and other questions, Kirn attends his old friend’s murder trial and uses it as an occasion to reflect on both their tangled personal relationship and the surprising literary sources of Rockefeller’s evil. This investigation of the past climaxes in a tense jailhouse reunion with a man whom Kirn realizes he barely knew—a predatory, sophisticated genius whose life, in some respects, parallels his own and who may have intended to take another victim during his years as a fugitive from justice: Kirn himself.
Up in the Air
Description: Ryan Bingham’s job as a Career Transition Counselor–he fires people–has kept him airborne for years. Although he has come to despise his line of work, he has come to love the culture of what he calls “Airworld,” finding contentment within pressurized cabins, anonymous hotel rooms, and a wardrobe of wrinkle-free slacks. With a letter of resignation sitting on his boss’s desk, and the hope of a job with a mysterious consulting firm, Ryan Bingham is agonizingly close to his ultimate goal, his Holy Grail: one million frequent flier miles. But before he achieves this long-desired freedom, conditions begin to deteriorate.
With perception, wit, and wisdom, Up in the Air combines brilliant social observation with an acute sense of the psychic costs of our rootless existence, and confirms Walter Kirn as one of the most savvy chroniclers of American life.
Lost in the Meritocracy:
The Undereducation of an Overachiever
Description: From elementary school on, Walter Kirn knew how to stay at the top of his class: He clapped erasers, memorized answer keys, and parroted his teachers’ pet theories. But when he launched himself eastward to an Ivy League university, Kirn discovered that the temple of higher learning he had expected was instead just another arena for more gamesmanship, snobbery, and social climbing. In this whip-smart memoir of kissing-up, cramming, and competition, Lost in the Meritocracy reckons the costs of an educational system where the point is simply to keep accumulating points and never to look back—or within.
Description:: This eighties-centric, Ritalin-fueled, pitch-perfect comic novel by a writer to watch brings energy and originality to the classic Midwestern coming-of-age story. Meet Justin Cobb, “the King Kong of oral obsessives” (as his dentist dubs him) and the most appealingly bright and screwed-up fictional adolescent since Holden Caulfield donned his hunter’s cap. For years, no remedy–not orthodontia, not the escalating threats of his father, Mike, a washed-out linebacker turned sporting goods entrepreneur, not the noxious cayenne pepper-based Suk-No-Mor–can cure Justin’s thumb-sucking habit. Then a course of hypnosis seemingly does the trick, but true to the conservation of neurotic energy, the problem doesn’t so much disappear as relocate. Sex, substance abuse, speech team, fly-fishing, honest work, even Mormonism–Justin throws himself into each pursuit with a hyperactive energy that even his daily Ritalin dose does little to blunt. Each time, however, he discovers that there is no escaping the unruly imperatives of his self and the confines of his deeply eccentric family. The only “cure” for the adolescent condition is time and distance. Always funny, sometimes hilariously so, occasionally poignant, and even disturbing, deeply wise on the vexed subject of fathers and sons, Walter Kirn’s Thumbsucker is an utterly fresh and all-American take on the painful process of growing up.
Description: Kent Selkirk is an operator at AidSat, an omni-present subscriber service ready to answer, solve, and assist with the client’s every problem. Through the AidSat network Kent has a wealth of information at his fingertips–information he can use to monitor subscribers’ vital signs, information he can use to track their locations, information he can use to insinuate himself into their very lives.
My Hard Bargain: Stories
Description: My Hard Bargain was hailed as “an impressive debut” by The Wall Street Journal, and “substantial and down to earth” by the New Yorker. The exalted, memorable characters in Kirn’s acclaimed debut short story collection confront the real hard bargains in life that spring up from the business of simply living, and Kirn transforms these hard-luck stories into strapping moral lessons which evoke the bonds that unite us all.
Mission To America: A Novel
Description: From one of our most admired and visible young writers, a superb new novel about the collision between the forces of faith and an over-stimulated, overfed, spiritually overextended America.
Mason LaVerle is a young man on a mission—a mission to America. He was raised in a remote Montana town in the church of the Aboriginal Fulfilled Apostles, a matriarchal, not-quite-Christian, almost New-Ageish sect that, like the Amish, keeps a wary distance from mainstream life. But the Apostles face a dwindling membership, so Mason is sent on an outreach mission with another young man to bring back converts—and, more specifically, brides. And so these two naive believers head off in a van to encounter the contemporary scene in all its bewildering, seductive diversity. They proselytize at malls, passing out leaflets in parking garages based on the condition of their cars and their bumper stickers. Eventually, they make their way to a gilded Colorado ski town, where, while promoting their un-American message of humble, serene, optimistic fatalism, Mason finds himself courting a young woman who used to pose for Internet porn sites, and his partner becomes the live-in guru of a guilt-ridden billionaire with chronic bowel complaints. Meanwhile, back in Montana, the Apostles are facing schism and extinction as their beloved leader, the Seeress, drifts toward death. The mounting pressures lead Mason to the brink of missionary madness.
Walter Kirn is one of the most acute observers of contemporary American life that we have. In Mission to America, he harnesses that gift to a satirical yet moving tale of a stranger in a strange land that just happens to be our own.
She Needed Me
Description: After a meeting outside a St. Paul abortion clinic, two young people–Kim, pregnant, desperate, broke, and seeking help; and Weaver, a devout member of a fanatical protest group–fall in love despite their differences.
My Mothers Bible:
A Son Discovers Clues to God (Kindle Single)
Description: “It’s commonly said that if people understood the difficulties and heartbreaks of having children, they might not do it,” writes Walter Kirn. “This seems to be true of God as well. Parenthood was not what he expected.”
This droll assessment is the type of unorthodox commentary that has made Kirn one of America’s best-loved novelists (“Up in the Air,” “Thumbsucker”) and critics. And behind this particular great writer is an equally indomitable mother. Millie Kirn’s spunk and love of literature helped shape her son. She was a voracious reader who “held conventional wisdom in disdain, delighted in seeing hypocrisy exposed, arrogance leveled, and complacency shaken.” After she died unexpectedly of a rare infection in her brain, Kirn was sorting through her effects when he came across a King James Study Bible. In his grief, hoping to commune with his mother’s spirit, he opened the volume and discovered a glorious profusion of notes in his mother’s familiar handwriting. “Much ado about curtains,” she wrote in a typically tart assessment of a passage from Exodus laying out the rules for priestly dress and temple adornment.
Inspired by his mother’s brash, iconoclastic annotations and following them across the biblical landscape like crumbs, Walter Kirn set about rereading the Old Testament for the first time since he was a child. He sees its familiar heroes—Abraham, Noah, Moses, and Joseph—in a fresh, often comic light. “The Bible is a drama concerned with drama itself, its origins, its nature, and its ends,” he writes. “Maybe Creation’s purpose is just that: to stir up a fuss and banish God’s perfect boredom. My mother once told me that her life was flat before I came along—not bad, just flat. And how was it afterwards? ‘Very busy,’ she said.”
“My Mother’s Bible” is a profound reevaluation of God’s nature as embodied in the Old Testament, shaped by a son’s and mother’s enduring love for reading and for each other.