The mystery that has the literary world buzzing this week isn’t a novel — it’s the true story of a bestselling thriller author who has admitted to a series of lies about his past.
Dan Mallory, whose hit mystery novel “The Woman in the Window” was published in January 2018 under the pen name A.J. Finn, was the subject of a long investigative piece in the Feb. 11 issue of the New Yorker. The article claims that Mallory told several people over the years that he had cancer, that his mother had died of cancer, and that his brother had taken his own life.
None of those things was true, Mallory admitted through a public relations firm he had hired. “It is the case that on numerous occasions in the past, I have stated, implied, or allowed others to believe that I was afflicted with a physical malady instead of a psychological one: cancer, specifically,” he said. “With the benefit of hindsight, I’m sorry to have taken, or be seen to have taken, advantage of anyone else’s goodwill, however desperate the circumstances; that was never the goal.”
Mallory said his untruthfulness was the result of “crushing depressions, delusional thoughts, morbid obsessions and memory problems” brought about by “severe bipolar II disorder.”
His explanation was dismissed by UCLA psychiatry professor Carrie Bearden, who told the New Yorker that bipolar II disorder does not cause delusions, memory loss or deceptive behavior.
Mallory had claimed on several occasions that his mother had succumbed to cancer. His mother did indeed have cancer at one point, but is still living. She declined to be interviewed by a New Yorker reporter about her son’s claims.
His father, however, did speak to the reporter, and denied that Mallory had ever himself had cancer, as he had claimed to co-workers in the past. "[N]o, Dan didn’t have it. He’s just been an absolutely perfect son. He has his faults, like we all do, he’s just a tremendous young man,” the elder Mallory said.
“The Woman in the Window” was published to critical acclaim in 2018 by William Morrow, the Harper Collins imprint where Mallory worked as an executive editor. He had previously worked for Random House imprint Ballantine and publisher Little, Brown.
William Morrow, in a statement provided to the New Yorker and other publications, declined to address the allegations, saying, “We don’t comment on the personal lives of our employees or authors. Professionally, Dan was a highly valued editor, and the publication of ‘The Woman in the Window’ — a #1 New York Times bestseller out of the gate, and the bestselling debut novel of 2018 — speaks for itself.”
The New Yorker story sent shockwaves through the publishing and media worlds. In the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland wondered whether Mallory will actually face any consequences for his deception.
“It would fit the pattern perfectly if Mallory were to survive this latest unpleasantness, as privileged men like him so often do,” Freedland wrote. “Only if that pattern is broken will we know that something has changed — and a new chapter has begun.”
Ron Charles, writing in the Washington Post, compared Mallory to James Frey, the author who admitted he had fabricated stories about himself for his memoir, “A Million Little Pieces.”
“Mallory’s situation is different, though, if more bizarre,” Charles wrote. “How do we reconsider a work of fiction — or any work of art — when confronted with troubling information about its creator?”
On Twitter, users couldn’t stop talking about the Mallory story, with many saying his privileged status might have allowed him to get away with his deception:
The Dan Mallory story is wild and hilarious until you remember that young women of color are leaving publishing in droves while mediocre white men continue to find enormous success while making subzero effort and creating hostile work environments for their coworkers.— Laura Sebastian (@sebastian_lk) February 4, 2019
Please excuse me while I follow up on the Dan Mallory article with 10,000 words on what it’s like to be a woman who tells the truth in publishing.— Lynn Steger Strong (@lynnsstrong) February 4, 2019
One of the many things that strikes me about this that Dan Mallory received a level of encouragement, support and practical help for his writing while at Oxford that I did not know could ever have been available from anyone, although I was there at the same time. https://t.co/661vhtuXDY— Sophia McDougall (@McDougallSophia) February 4, 2019
This whole Dan Mallory situation is what we mean when we refer to the "glass elevator" by the way. Even though publishing is filled with women (albeit white women) at most levels, white men rocket to the top even with nothing of substance backing them up, more often than not.— Kurestin Armada (@kurestinarmada) February 4, 2019
In October, the film adaptation of “The Woman in the Window” is slated to hit theaters.