Sociology and writing fiction are not that different from one another, if you ask Jon Bloch. The sociology professor’s novel The Identity Thief comes out this month, and he says the novel’s theme of self-identity also interests him as a scholar. “Sociologists believe that the self is socially constructed,” Bloch says. “It’s difficult to say if there is a true self or not.” As for the familiar question of whether nature or nurture creates the self? “We focus more on the nurture,” says Bloch.
The novel, in which an identity thief creates a new life as his victim’s world falls apart, is already receiving critical acclaim: author Paul D. Marks called it “an audacious and cleverly plotted, intriguing mystery that opens up new layers of deceit at every turn.” Its tag line, taken from the narrator, is “the biggest mistake you can make is thinking you know who you are.” Bloch says as a sociologist he is interested in “how we see ourselves versus how other people see us. Someone who might think she or he is very clever may be considered not so clever by others.”
Although this is not his first novel, Bloch views The Identity Thief as his first really serious one and says it can be considered part literary fiction and part popular fiction. He had originally wanted to be a fiction writer, “saw it wasn’t practical, so got into sociology and thought I wouldn’t try to write fiction anymore.” Yet he found himself drawn back to writing fiction and says he likes to think outside the box and combine genres. He describes his book as “a kind of a film noir literary thriller.”
In the novel, the thief and the victim take turns narrating the story, chapter by chapter, and Bloch says that ironically, the thief is the more sympathetic of the two: he is out of work and desperate for money. The victim, Bloch says, is something of a sociopath, but still feels like he’s been robbed, not only of his money but also of something essential to himself.
In today’s world, Bloch says, “things like your zip code or Social Security number can affect how you’re treated by the world. So when someone has access to those kinds of basic information about you, it raises the question of not only who are you but also who is the identity thief.” Bloch himself has been a victim of identity theft.
In his classes, Bloch says, he likes to get his students thinking about the construction of identity and asks them questions such as, “Are there things that steal our identities all the time? Do we have things that steal our identities – for instance, are you happy in your job or do you feel that it robs you of something? Do the people we know add to us or take away from us?”
As a sociologist, Bloch says, he also encourages students to think about how much their lives have to do with their position in society and how others see them. “What if I went to a different college? What if I had a different job? Making choices causes life to go in different directions.”
The novel, which is being published by Bacon Press Books, will be available in both a Kindle edition as well as hard copy.