Max Abelson at n+1:
IN THE FEW TIMES Janet Malcolm let other reporters interview her, she did what she could to keep herself safe.
“Doing this interview by email gives me a chance to think of answers to your questions,” Malcolm wrote to the Believer in 2004. “If we did it in person, I might just look at you in blank helplessness.” She invited a Paris Review interviewer over to her Gramercy Park apartment seven years later, but didn’t answer the questions until typing on her desktop Mac.
Malcolm, who died in 2021 at 86, was as attuned as anyone to the dangers—malice, betrayal, misunderstanding—of a tape recorder clicking on. The monster in her masterpiece, The Journalist and the Murderer, isn’t the man convicted of killing his family but the bestselling author he took to court for publishing a tell-all; what haunts The Silent Woman, her book about Sylvia Plath, isn’t the poet’s suicide or Ted Hughes but the couple’s biographers. To read Malcolm’s decades of work for the New Yorker is to be moved by the clarity of her journalism—and warned, again and again, that the form is no good.