Duke Wolff was a flawless specimen of the American clubman — a product of Yale and the OSS, a one-time fighter pilot turned aviation engineer. Duke Wolff was a failure who flunked out of a series of undistinguished schools, was passed up for military service, and supported himself with desperately improvised scams, exploiting employers, wives, and, finally, his own son.
In The Duke of Deception, Geoffrey Wolff unravels the enigma of this Gatsbyesque figure, a bad man who somehow was also a very good father, an inveterate liar who falsified everything but love.
I had to read this for my advanced nonfiction writing class, and it was extremely difficult to read through and find something positive. So instead, I’ve resorted to the analytical in hopes that it can enlighten future readers of the content.
Geoffrey Wolff entangles the reader in a long, arduous explanation for why he is thankful his father died. As a reader, I felt the memoir was too long, too detailed with explanations, and I found myself focusing on mental and behavioral issues Duke and Geoffrey shared. Whether or not I focused on the wrong details, it helped to enlighten the link between father and son and the excuse for why he was so thankful over the death of his father.
What every person has in common is a connection with another human being, blood relation or not. We are naturally curious about how another lives and what different facets in his or her life are like. How does one act around friends? Family? Strangers? While I enjoyed reading about these two men, I could not relate to them. Trust and honesty is a foundation in my life, and it seemed the only person in this memoir who I could trust to be honest was Geoffrey’s mother. She was a woman stuck in a sad situation, and wanted to make the best of what she had.
Duke drilled Geoffrey to tell the truth, to be proud of who he is, and yet Geoffrey lied as much as Duke. These two constantly tried to cover up their individual pasts and create newer, brighter histories for their identities. They lived in a world of confusion, and thrived off the snowballing of the tales. This probably explains why Geoffrey gave detailed accounts the various women who would walk in and out of his life. He was desperate for something to cling to that was solid, stable, and loving. If a girl showed any interest in him, he would leap at the idea and make advances far beyond his understanding and control to ensnare her. Love was his excuse to leave this world of deception.
The prologue and epilogue bookend the memoir of “things.” Things that Duke collected, enjoyed, stole, bartered, and in turn shared with his son and his fascination of material items. We learn of the squalor Duke died in, his loss of things. This loss, I think, opened up the door to the truth Geoffrey so desperately wanted.
Rating: ★ of 5
GoodReads: 3.92 of 5