Saturday, August 6, 2011

Book nineteen: The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal.

Remember how I just recently re-read Amistead Maupin's Tales of the City.  And how I commented on the zany plot twists that make the book fun to read but are totally implausible?  Well, as if determined to prove me wrong, my next book is a non-fiction tale that boasts so many zany plot twists and turns, it puts Maupin's Tales to shame.

The book is The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor by Mark Seal.  It tells the story of Christian K. Gerhartsreiter, who was born in a small German town and almost immediately began planning his departure. He makes his way to the United States where he begins to deceive just about everyone around him thanks to the elaborate personae he adopts. From the East Coast to the West Coast, Gerhartsreiter makes friends and somehow pays the bills using his charm and significant intellect.  And just as people start to suspect he might not be who he says he is, he moves on to a new place and a revised identity.

His final identity is as Carl Rockefeller, pitching himself as a distant cousin of the famously blue-blooded American family. He's married, and uses his wife's substantial income to buy homes and lead the life of a wealthy Boston-er.  They now have an 8-year-old daughter together.  That's when things begin to fall apart.

This book reads like one of those 1950s thrilling true-crime stories.  It's hard to believe that anyone could succeed at these types of fraud in our modern society.  And yet, this story made headlines just a few years ago as Carl Rockefeller's life fell apart.

What makes someone go to such lengths to create a outlandish stories in place of a real life?  It's even harder to understand why we believe them.  But a friend of Carl Rockefeller who was interviewed for the book may have some insight:

"I'm an architect.  You know what I do for a living? I hallucinate. I hallucinate things and they become real.  I have an office.  I attach dollars and cents to this.  But it may be that all of us in varying degrees do this because otherwise we would be stuck with a preexisting reality."

Maybe we all are partial impostors.

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