Dan Mallory and Me
About three months after my 2009 memoir, The Big Rewind, came out, I received big news from my publicist at Scribner: the book was going to be reviewed in The Washington Post. I was excited but mostly I was terrified. The Washington Post was a big deal. They brought down Nixon. They were one of the world’s great newspapers, and I had incredible reverence for their history and legacy.
What if they didn’t like me? What if they thought my book sucked? My then-girlfriend, now-wife tried to assure me that I had nothing to worry about. Obviously a newspaper wouldn’t cover a modest-selling book by a first-time author long after everyone else did just to slam it. No, she told me, they were obviously circling back for it to give it some late-in-the-game praise.
I was long-distance with my girlfriend at the time so I will always remember reading the Washington Post review together over Skype the moment it dropped. I was too nervous to sleep, knowing that it would be made public imminently so I figured I would experience it as soon as I possibly could.
My girlfriend read it aloud to me. I could hear her cringing before she said, “Oh honey, this is not good.” It was not. In fact, it was as bad a review as I have ever received. It was bad in every sense. It was a mean-spirited pan of the book rooted in the critic’s hatred of my day job as the head writer of The A.V Club, an organization whose sins and weaknesses he held me solely responsible for. He even dubbed me the “Snarkitect” behind the section, much to my horror and mortification.
The review was also very badly written: glib, mean-spirited and guilty of the ugliness and snark it depicted as my defining traits as a writer and human being. For a review of a book about pop culture as well as mental illness it was remarkably tone-deaf as well, at one point sneering that the legitimacy of any observations I might have about my Jewish heritage is negated by my reverence for the Beastie Boys. Who doesn’t like the Beastie Boys? This piece of shit, apparently. Man, fuck that guy. Oh dear. I’m getting worked up all over again.
I wasn’t just bummed, I was crushed. Dispirited. I was even more horrified when I went to Amazon and, thanks to a deal they had with The Washington Post, the scathing, clueless and shoddily written and reasoned pan was now on my book’s page, so that it was pretty much the first thing anybody interested in purchasing The Big Rewind would see.
It was such a shitty bit of luck that an everyday hero who worked at Amazon took the review down, realizing just how unfair and nasty it was. I’m not going to lie: it took me a long time to get over that review. It took months, if not years.
Thankfully, time has taken away much of the Washington Post review’s sting but it remains vivid enough in my mind that I never forgot the name of the freelancer who wrote the review for The Washington Post: Daniel Mallory, a snooty so and so whose bio said he was an Oxford man.
I did not wish good things for this Daniel Mallory fellow. I hoped that he’d end up bitter, rejected and reduced to self-publishing in his parent’s basement, in sharp contrast to me, who hasn’t lived in his in-laws’ basement for almost two years and um, makes his living through self-publishing, but with dignity.
I told myself this Daniel Mallory must be a creep, a weirdo, an angry young man railing impotently against a world that had rejected him through horribly biased book reviews. This Daniel Mallory guy wasn’t going anywhere, obviously. He couldn’t write a decent book so he was lashing out petulantly against someone who did.
Yesterday I discovered just what my pal Daniel Mallory was up to in a lengthy, much-passed around expose in The New Yorker. It turns out that my mental conception of Mallory was essentially correct except that instead of being a creepy loser marinating in his own sad failure he’s actually a staggeringly good-looking, male-model handsome dazzler whose incredible charm and personal magnetism overwhelm all who meet him.
And instead of being a failure, he apparently had the best-selling debut novel last year in The Woman in the Window under the pseudonym of A.J. Finn. He signed a book deal for millions, then got a movie deal for another million, with Pulitzer-winning playwright Tracy Letts writing the script.
It’s not all sunshine, unicorns and lollipops, however. Apparently this gent is something of a compulsive liar/oily conman/real-life Tom Ripley type who has lied about having Cancer and a brain tumor and manipulated and cat-fished co-workers, colleagues and bosses. Instead of a dweeb in a basement, it looked like my nemesis was a dashing, continental conman/bestselling author with an ability to manipulate people that’s damn near Rasputin-like.
Though Mallory’s review was ridiculously mean and ill-informed I’m glad it exists. It made me want to not be the person Mallory was writing about in his hit-job. It made me want to be kinder, more empathetic, less interested in scoring cheap laughs than in trying to understand people and honor our shared humanity.
Mallory has attributed his past misbehavior to manic-depression, which coincidentally was one of the themes of my next memoir about pop culture and mental illness, 2013’s You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me. Mallory is asking the world to have a level of sympathy and compassion that he certainly did not extend to me when writing about my book about Depression.
It’s increasingly looking like Daniel Mallory’s whole life has been a lie, especially his review of The Big Rewind. Did he even read the book?
Nevertheless, I ain’t mad at you, Daniel Mallory. You indirectly helped me become a better writer and a better person and when I see and write about the feature-film adaptation of your best-selling debut it will be with an open mind and compassion for you and your struggles. Because that’s who I’d like to think I am at this point in my life: someone genuine and sincere, who no longer has to cling to the crutch of cheap irony.
I never was the Snarkitect, of course. That was just an astonishingly stupid turn of phrase from an astonishingly successful con man and author and editor. Mallory’s awful, awful review made me want to be the antithesis of the Snarkitect and that has had a positive impact on my life, psyche and writing.
I’m not doing quite as well as Daniel Mallory these days so if you would consider pledging even a dollar over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace it’d be much appreciated and you’ll get access to patron-only content and stuff.