HHandsome and accomplished, Dan Mallory seemed to be the new golden boy of American letters. He had a stellar CV, worked for high-profile publishers in London and New York, and wrote a psychological thriller, The Woman in the Window, which was a huge bestseller and adapted into a Netflix movie.
He also polished his public persona with lies. Among the most egregious, his mother – still alive – had died of cancer, his brother – still alive – had committed suicide and that Mallory himself – still lying – had a brain tumour. He added a fake Oxford University doctorate for good measure.
It’s a juicy yarn that first made headlines in 2019 and has often been compared to Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr Ripley. It is also worth a second look and a natural subject for Missing pagesa new podcast series that sets out to “reopen literary cold cases” and revisit “some of the most iconic, jaw-dropping and truly bizarre book scandals to shape the publishing world”.
The podcast is hosted by Bethanne Patrick, who has reviewed books for the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe newspapers as well as National Public Radio (NPR). His Twitter account, @TheBookMaven, has more than 200,000 subscribers. But she doesn’t claim to be a publishing insider or an investigative reporter.
“Everyone chats and we all have different ways of chatting,” Patrick says via Zoom from his home, naturally with stacks of books visible, in McLean, Virginia. “I’m not against gossip or for gossip but, if I’m going to tell these stories, and if I’m going to get into these stories, people think ‘ooh! ah! what?’, so I want to go as far as possible.
“I am neither Andrew Wylie [a leading literary agent] I’m not the amazing Ian Parker either. [whose 2019 profile exposed Mallory’s falsehoods] at the New Yorker. I’m kinda in between with this podcast but I wanted to do my best and tell a lot of people about these stories. We strive to give a 360 look at these scams and scandals in the publishing industry.”
The eight-episode premiere of the first season tells the story of Kaavya Viswanathan, a 19-year-old prodigy who landed a six-figure book deal only to be accused of plagiarism and end up on a national television apology tour. . Missing Pages revisits the case with interviewees including Abraham Riesman, author of The Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee, and Viswanathan herself.
In the Mallory episode, Patrick speaks to Camila Osorio, who had the unenviable task of fact-checking the seminal 10,000-word New Yorker. profile, critic and memoirist Jessa Crispin, author Luis Alberto Urrea (who, unlike Mallory, had to rise through the ranks) and two psychiatrists, Jose Apud and Gerald Perman.
Among their observations is the fact that although Mallory was genuinely diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, what annoyed people the most was his willingness to scapegoat the condition to explain his selfish behavior.
Patrick, 58, explains: “We wanted to talk to psychiatrists because being bipolar is not synonymous with being a pathological liar. Camille [the New Yorker factchecker] was truly distressed by Mallory’s claims that “I can’t stop lying because I’m bipolar”. I thought it affected people, even in their professional abilities.”
The host was also surprised by Mallory’s baseless claim that her brother had cystic fibrosis. “I thought that people affected by cystic fibrosis, families, victims of people who suffer from this disease are very close. They do a lot of things as a community. They raise funds for research. And for someone to lie specifically about a disease is really horrible.
She asks, “Is Dan Mallory a sociopath?” I do not know. I know he must have felt the need to stay on the path to glory.
Mallory’s unfinished postgraduate research focused on Highsmith and he spoke of his fascination with his charming fantasy Tom Ripley. Unlike Ripley, the podcast notes, Mallory was not a class warrior. But his web of deception spun a romantic origin story about triumph over adversity.
Perhaps it was a warning that in the 21st century, writing well is no longer enough. Authors also need to play the celebrity game and have their own story to tell investigators, profilers and the public. And the more traumatic, the better.
Crispin. founder of BookSlut.com, told the podcast, “I would like to lay the blame for trauma entertainment on Oprah’s [Winfrey] feet. I think that kind of material definitely taught us to expect these stories of doom, to expect these stories of trauma, and told us how to phrase them.
The “Oprah Effect” It has long been said that he changed the edition. But is it good or bad? Patrick comments, “Oprah Winfrey has done amazing things for books, especially for books by authors who have been underrepresented – women, black, bipoc, trans, LGBTQ.
“But like anyone with a lot of power, I don’t think Oprah always realizes the effect she’s going to have. How can she? You can’t predict that and so I think for a while that Oprah was really into books about pain and suffering. Maybe it was part of the zeitgeist, maybe it was something that helped her back then. We can’t count that.”
Patrick has had the opportunity to look beyond celebrities and meet authors in person at interviews or backstage at literary festivals. She brandishes in front of the Zoom camera a “ideal library» print on the theme of the authors with whom she had a drink. It includes Margaret Atwood, Umberto Eco and David Mitchell.
She remembers with emotion: “David Mitchell: absolutely my favorite. Someone who is truly a whole person, a family life, an amazing artist, who cares about everything and everyone. He struck me as someone who really belonged in the world and it’s nice to be around someone like that.
“I would also say Margaret Atwood, whom I have known for almost 20 years now. She’s so sneaky, smart, and unexpected. People might think, “Well, of course, she wrote this and she wrote that.” Yeah, but sometimes they’re amazing writers but they don’t bring that to their personal conversation. She’s full of wit and charm and intellectual fireworks all the time and I love that.
Another drinking buddy was Salman Rushdie, currently recovering in hospital after a stabbing at a recent literary event at the normally quiet Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York. Hadi Matar, 24, pleaded not guilty to attempted second degree murder and assault.
Patrick, who has hosted many such events, was as appalled and appalled as anyone. “Salman Rushdie is someone who has brought timeless books to our culture and has been incredibly generous to other writers, artists and people supporting our culture. So that’s just obnoxious; that’s not what should to arrive.
“One of the things that we may be talking about for a future podcast episode is what happens to those live events that we all love so much and attend so often? We live in a country where guns fire are out of control and we certainly know now that the knives are out of control as well That’s gonna change and I hate that we have to have a national book festival where everyone’s bags are searched.”
The attack on Rushdie came 33 years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling on Muslims to assassinate him a few months after the publication of his novel The Satanic verses. Some Muslims considered passages about the Prophet Muhammad to be blasphemous.
Married to a retired army officer, Patrick lived in Berlin before the fall of the wall and appreciates the fragility and preciousness of freedom of expression for writers. She comments: “We know what it is like to live in a place where you are controlled and watched. In America, one of the beautiful and surprising things about the way we look at writers and authors is that our writers and authors have been free for so long in so many aspects of their lives.
“We forget that, for example, Pen International and other groups are still working to allow writers to write freely, to get out of prisons, out of the cup of the oppressors. The fact that I can’t remember anything like it in recent history in the United States speaks to our incredible privileges that, sadly, we take for granted.
She adds: “I don’t think we need to be taught a lesson; I don’t want knives on stage at Chautauqua. But I think we have to be very careful and intentional about what happens next for artists, especially because it’s so important for us to bring artists from other countries. It’s not just the Covid: it’s the restrictions, it’s the visas, it’s the conflicts, it’s all kinds of things.
What impact has Patrick seen on the American edition of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements? “There is so much ground to cover. I am happy to say that there have been changes. I’m happy to see some of the women of color in higher positions in publishing, like Lisa Lucas at the Hall of Fame.
“But we still have a long way to go to not only read, accept, acquire and publish books from people of color – men, women, people of different genders and sexual orientations – but we also have to learn to talk about them. I’m writing a review this morning for an Afro-British writer and I was saying something about colonialism and thought I’d have to check my language here. I have to be very careful.
“We have to stop using words that allow us to hide, that allow us to isolate ourselves, and that’s really hard for the wordsmiths of the world, isn’t it? I was brought up to learn all the words, use them, and now I think what words separate me from others. This is one of the things that editing is going to have to deal with.”
While Mallory was a white man with the “right credentials,” proof that East Coast elites and patriarchy rule, Patrick witnesses the rise of a new generation of diverse writers.
“I see different communities — black, Latina, transgender — rising up to support writers within their ranks and help them get attention. I’ve made a real effort, and I’ve actually had a little run-in with some white male colleagues on Twitter about the fact that when I’m choosing what to write reviews on, I’m choosing more books by authors of color and queer and trans authors.
She adds, “I don’t think that means I ignore white men at all. I have spent most of my life reading the works of white men and some of them are fantastic. I’ll never get over Tristram Shandy – what an experimental novel, it’s the best! But that doesn’t mean that now, in the 21st century, I can’t decide to take a turn. We have to look a little deeper intellectually when it comes to different types of writers.