Author: Janet Malcolm; With an introduction by Ian Frazier
A poignant, revealing memoir by the legendary, award-winning New Yorker staff writer Janet Malcolm—featuring never-before-published material about her extraordinary life.
For decades, Janet Malcolm’s books and dispatches for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books poked and prodded at reportorial and biographical convention, gesturing toward the artifice that underpins both public and private selves. In Pictures, she turned her gimlet eye on her own life—a task demanding a writer just as peerlessly skillful as she was widely known to be.
Pictures, then, is not the story of a life but is an event on its own terms, an encounter with identity and family photographs as poignant and original as anything since Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida. Malcolm looked beyond the content of the image and the easy seductions of self-recognition, constructing a memoir from memories that pose questions of their own. Pictures begins with the image of a morose young girl on a train, leaving Prague at the age of five in 1939. From there we follow her to the Czech enclave of Yorkville in Manhattan, where her father, a psychiatrist and neurologist, and her mother, an attorney from a bourgeois family, traded their bohemian, Dada-inflected lives for the ambitions of middle-class America. From her early, fitful loves, to evenings at the old Metropolitan Opera House, to her fascination with what it might mean to be a “bad girl,” Malcolm assembles a composite portrait of a New York childhood, one that never escaped the tug of Europe and the mysteries of fate and family. Later, Pictures delves into her marriage to Gardner Botsford, the world of William Shawn’s New Yorker, and the libel trial that led Malcolm to become a character in her own drama—a role she reprises in the writing of this book, where she brings her distinctive critical sensibilities to bear on herself.
Displaying the sharp wit and astute commentary that are Malcolmian trademarks, this brief volume develops into a memoir like few others in our literature.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux