The New Yorker magazine is known for its literary excellence, being the hallowed home of essays, criticism, and cultural commentary, all stirred up with lethally sharp satire. Recently, though, it detonated a juicy gossip story that ripped through the literary world.
One of the biggest-selling thrillers last year was a book titled The Woman in the Window, written under the pseudonym AJ Finn. There was a riveting side story, too, that helped to fuel the hype around it.
The author, whose real name is Dan Mallory, was a senior editor at William Morrow in New York when he wrote it. A bidding auction broke out on the synopsis alone, and even before publication, the film rights were sold, as well as foreign rights in more than 30 countries. William Morrow eventually bought it in a two-book, $2-million deal. Cover shouts were secured from Stephen King (“Unputdownable”) and Gillian Flynn (“Astounding”), and it debuted on the New York Times bestseller list at number one, the first time in 12 years that a debut novel had done so.
It didn’t harm the publicity campaign that the 39-year-old Mallory is soap opera handsome, was educated at Duke University and Oxford, and spoke openly about his mental-health issues. For 15 years, he told interviewers, he’d battled with debilitating depression, which was eventually diagnosed as bipolar disorder. It was while at home for a spell, adjusting to new medication, that he got the idea for The Woman in the Window, and began writing.
It is interesting to note that Mallory studied the work of Patricia Highsmith at Oxford. Her most famous creation was the slippery, glamorous psychopath Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr Ripley. It’s a name that comes up often in The New Yorker’s deep-dive investigation into Mallory, titled “A Suspense Novelist’s Trail of Deceptions”.
Journalist Ian Parker reveals the unsettling fact that when other publishers learned of AJ Finn’s true identity during the bidding process, they quietly dropped out, leaving the field free for Morrow. The move, Parker writes, “reflected an industry-wide unease with Mallory that never became public”.
Now, fiction is the bailiwick of fantasists and fabulists. To put it simply, writers make stuff up. But why would a writer make up the bizarre claims about his own life that Mallory has? So much so that he became known as a flake in the publishing industry? According to Parker, Mallory lied repeatedly to concerned colleagues about having a brain tumour, told an Oxford lecturer that his mother had succumbed to breast cancer, and that his brother Jake was dead, too. Parker found them alive and well. Mallory said he’d been a runway model and had been on the cover of Russian Vogue, and that he had worked with Tina Fey. None of it was true.
Mallory said he’d been a runway model and had been on the cover of Russian Vogue, and that he had worked with Tina Fey. None of it was true
Mallory claimed that JK Rowling’s book The Cuckoo’s Calling, written under a pseudonym, was published on his recommendation (it wasn’t) and that he had received a doctorate from Oxford (he hadn’t). There were some common-or-garden instances of malfeasance, such as unauthorised spending on the company credit card, and some truly odd stories about him, such as when he was leaving his job in New York to go to Oxford, plastic cups filled with urine were found dotted around his boss Linda Marrow’s office. Mallory was suspected of having left them.
The literary establishment has been rubbing its hands in schadenfreudedrenched glee. The author has apologised for his “untruthfulness”, saying it was the result of “crushing depressions, delusional thoughts, morbid obsessions, and memory problems” brought about by “severe bipolar II disorder”.
The fracas hasn’t affected his publisher’s decision to go ahead with publishing his second novel in January next year, and the film of The Woman in the Window, starring Amy Adams and Gary Oldman, is due in theatres in October. Because when all is said and done, the Talented Mr Mallory is very good at making things up.
One of the best social-media treatments of the story came from San Francisco writer Nichole LeFebvre, in a parody of William Carlos Williams’ This is Just to Say “plums in the icebox” poem. She tweeted:
I have pissed in the cups
that were in
for a book
I had a tumor
and my brother
- From the Wanted edition of Wanted 2019.