Ian Parker in The New Yorker on Dan Mallory’s life of deception

There’s an enthralling piece in the Feb 11th New Yorker on the suspense novelist Dan Mallory who has published as A J Finn. Turns out he chose a pseudonym for a reason:

In 2016, midway through the auction for “The Woman in the Window,” the author’s real name was revealed to bidders. At that point, most publishing houses dropped out. This move reflected an industry-wide unease with Mallory that never became public, and that did not stand in the way of his enrichment: William Morrow, Mallory’s employer at the time, kept bidding, and bought his book

The whole article is worth reading. There is something highly disturbing about Mallory’s repeated claims to either have cancer himself or that his mother died of it. Parker quotes various nauseatingly jokey emails and self-dramatising articles. For instance:

While there, he published a dispatch, in the Duke student publication TowerView, describing an encounter with a would-be mugger, who asked him, “Want me to shoot your motherfucking mouth off?” Mallory responded with witty aplomb, and the mugger, cowed, scuttled “down some anonymous alley to reflect on why it is Bad To Threaten Other People, especially pushy Americans who doubt he has a gun.”

I get a strong whiff of Never Happened from this. Mallory’s evident tendency to never let the truth get in the way of a good story has nearly been caught out before:

In an interview last January, on “Thrill Seekers,” an online radio show, the writer Alex Dolan asked Mallory about the novel’s Harlem setting. Mallory said that, when describing Anna’s house, he had kept in mind the uptown home of a family friend, with whom he had stayed when he interned in New York. After a rare hesitation, Mallory shared an anecdote: he said that he’d once accidentally locked himself in the house’s ground-floor bathroom. When he was eventually rescued, by his host, he had been trapped “for twenty-two hours and ten minutes.”

“Wow!” Dolan said.

Mallory said, “So perhaps that contributed to my fascination with agoraphobia.”

Dolan asked, “You had the discipline to, say, not kick the door down?”

Mallory, committed to twenty-two hours and ten minutes, said that he had torn a brass towel ring off the wall, straightened it into a pipe, “and sort of hacked away at the area right above the doorknob.” He continued, “I did eventually bore my way through it, but by that point my fingers were bloody, I was screaming obscenities. This is the point—of course—at which the father of the house walked in!” After Dolan asked him if he’d resorted to eating toothpaste, Mallory steered the conversation to Hitchcock.

Parker considers how Mallory’s lying and exaggerations became notorious:

In subsequent interviews, Mallory does not seem to have brought up this bathroom again. But the exchange gives a glimpse of the temptations and risks of hyperbole: how, under even slight pressure, an exaggeration can become further exaggerated. For a speaker more invested in advantage than in accuracy, such fabulation could be exhilarating—and might even lead to the dispatch, by disease, of a family member. I was recently told about two former publishing colleagues of Mallory’s who called him after he didn’t show up for a meeting. Mallory said that he was at home, taking care of someone’s dog. The meeting continued, as a conference call. Mallory now and then shouted, “No! Get down!” After hanging up, the two colleagues looked at each other. “There’s no dog, right?” “No.”

The examples I’ve quoted are relatively benign. Other of his self dramatics have a sinister air.

As Parker points out, Mallory’s use of cancer and mental illness as self justifying rhetorical props misrepresents the reality of these conditions:

What is most objectionable about Mallory is his use of suffering and reported suffering for instrumental purposes. Culturally we increasingly valorise and glorify victimhood, giving certain approved classes of victim a moral authority. It should be no surprise this provides an incentive for bad faith manipulation.

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