The Atlantic

Janet Malcolm the Magician

The late author could be bracingly clear or confidingly sympathetic, but her most consistent modus operandi was to obscure and complicate.
Source: George Nikitin / AP

There are two kinds of magicians: Those who purport to be doing something truly supernatural, drawing on the paranormal, and those who are honest with their audiences about fooling them.

Janet Malcolm, who died last week at 86, was of the second type. Her journalism was filled with instances in which she alerted readers that she would be playing with their minds; she then did so effortlessly. Knowing you were being messed with was no protection. For Malcolm’s readers, this was a satisfyingly pyrotechnic storytelling device—I’ve often laughed out loud while reading her work—but it had a point. , she seemed to be chiding us, any Even the most nuanced journalists, who acknowledge many

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