Janet Malcolm, the inquisitive and boldly subjective author and reporter known for her challenging critiques of everything from murder cases and art to journalism itself, has died at age 86. Malcolm's death was confirmed Thursday by a spokesperson for the New Yorker, where Malcolm was a longtime staff writer. Further details were not immediately available. The author of numerous influential books and magazine stories, the Prague native practiced a kind of post-modern style in which she often called attention to her own role in the narrative, questioning whether even the most conscientious observer could be trusted. “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible” was how she began The Journalist and the Murderer.
The 1990 book assailed Joe McGinniss’ true crime classic Fatal Vision as a prime case of the author tricking his subject, convicted killer Jeffrey MacDonald. Malcolm’s honors included a PEN award for biography in 2008 for Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice and a nomination in 2014 from the National Book Critics Circle for Forty-One False Starts. In 1999, the Modern Library ranked The Journalist and the Murderer No. 97 on its list of the 100 best nonfiction releases of the 20th century. Her other books, most of them edited by her second husband, Gardner Botsford, included The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes and Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession. She was born Jana Wienerová in 1934 and emigrated with her family to the US five years later, after the Nazis annexed Czechoslovakia. Her parents changed the family name to Winn. Read the full story. (Or read other obituaries.)