jAnnette Malcolm is notoriously despised by his biographers. While I found the press, with its mandate to “notice the little things,” deliciously congenial, I thought biographical research leads only to “intolerable knowledge,” the volumes of fat from which they produce little more than processing plants in which “experience is transformed into information by way of Transforming fresh produce into canned vegetables. As for the autobiography, this great literary craze of the late 20th century, got it wrong. As noted in still images, the skinny book that is her last, it’s a fiction project, and it can’t be trusted. Memory is incomplete and partial. What does this or that story prove? The answer: almost nothing in the end. Gold is “slag”.
But the memoir’s call is a siren, and in the end, Malcolm wasn’t entirely immune. still images, Published posthumously (she died in 2021, at the age of 86), it is a collection of autobiographical vignettes: eclectic postcards of grit and wisdom that offer, if not awkwardness, exactly, then a certain amount of evasiveness and avoidance. Not wanting to hurt herself too much on the rocks of revealing, Malcolm cleverly deploys an old ally in the form of photography, which she once wrote about for The New Yorker. Most, if not all, of these pieces come from contemplating fuzzy black-and-white photos pulled from boxes in her attic — doesn’t the camera always lie? The most insolent fable of them all, his near-constant presence undermines nearly every line Malcolm writes.
In theory, this should make us suspicious of her. but while still images Lightly Handed–including an introduction from her friend, the writer Ian Fraser, and an epilogue from her daughter, Anne Malcolm, and running into just 155 pages–it has the weight of honesty, even if it isn’t always forthright. Her mixed crew, a list of Malcolm’s parents and many of their friends among New York’s Czech refugee community in the years during and after World War II, is wonderfully and vividly plotted–a lost world to be found in their behaviour, their clothing and their furniture (a covered pewter pot is a novel in itself). same). Even as Malcolm insists not to have issued visas in the past, she slips seamlessly across the border, losing her papers only prompting her to move on.
She and her parents left Prague by train in July 1939, and boarded the ship that would take them to America in Hamburg. “We were among the few Jews who, by stupid luck, escaped the fate of the rest,” she wrote, “that a few random insects escaped a poisonous spray,” she wrote, pushing the mystery, for once, to the side. Her father, a psychiatrist, and her mother, a lawyer in Czechoslovakia, loved America, but they continued to fear anti-Semitism and their closest bonds were always with other Czech refugees, a situation that may have been in part – though she would have caught the idea of the idea – for the uncommon mixture of vigilantism and inattention in Malcolm’s work as a journalist (V still imagesShe writes wonderfully about how she doesn’t really listen to people’s answers to her questions, her tape recorder doing the job for her while her mind is too busy with other things, perhaps identity).
In the book, you wander. Here are the girls she met at summer camp, and here is her paternal grandmother Babika; In this picture is her naughty friend, Francine, and in this picture, her parents’ boring friends, the Trappes. Each image leads her to reflect not on the realities of these people’s lives, but on the built-in mythology that has surrounded them: stories smoothed over by time and tellers, not just an easy narrative, but a kind of incantation. She is an expert on matters of class and arrogance and is proud of it. “We know so much we don’t know that we know each other,” she wrote, recalling her apparent lack of amazement when she first saw a girl she had a crush on at camp dressed as someone her aunt was “Staying at the Plaza.”
Her mother had a “European charm”, and Malcolm believes she has inherited some of it. But how do I describe it? After all, such a thing is absolutely awful, right? You write: “By being a magician, you degrade yourself.” “You are asking for something.” Sahar is not a feminist: “I admire today’s rigid young women who want nothing from you.” But she also knows they’re just pretending: “Beneath the surface they’re just as pathetic as everyone else.”
Malcolm V Magic still images Includes, for me, in particular Charm – An absolute refusal to appear – that’s what makes the book worth a read, even if it’s not among her masterpieces (they would be In the Freud Archive And Journalist and killer). She has nothing bad to say about her parents, who loved her deeply. But doesn’t every silver lining have a cloud? Playing on Tolstoy, she wrote: “All happy families are alike in the illusion of superiority which their children take so poignantly.” It’s a font that looks totally breezy until you really start to unpick it.