I think I started every interview with: Tell me how you met Bill Cosby.” Noreen Malone, a senior editor at New York magazine, didn’t plan the question ahead of time. As she set out to interview the 35 women accusing Cosby of sexual assault for New York’s July 2015 cover story, Malone had other questions on her mind, like would the alleged victims speak to her at all? Could she get them to open up? But once she began interviewing the women, one by one, Malone realized that this question—neutral yet probing, simple yet cutting straight to the core of the narrative—was the perfect place to begin a painful discussion. “I let them choose the starting point for the story,” she says. “It just put it on their terms. And it just went from there.”
Malone is a magazine writer, not an oral historian. But her working method for the Cosby story could have been pulled straight from the oral historian’s handbook. Ask open-ended questions. Get people talking, and keep them talking. The women, to Malone’s surprise, did just that. And the more they talked, filling 232 pages in transcripts, the more Malone realized her voice, the writer’s voice, would only get in the way. “The flow of a feature didn’t feel quite right for it,” she says. “To me, what was so effective was hearing from the women themselves and having that be as undiluted as possible.”
It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely novelist than Samuel Richardson. The son of a carpenter, he attended school only intermittently until he was seventeen, when his formal education ended and he was apprenticed to a printer. He didn’t publish his first novel until after he turned fifty. The undertaking was almost accidental. He had become the proprietor of a printing press when, in 1739, two London booksellers asked him to put together a “letter-writer,” an etiquette manual consisting of letters that “country readers” might use as models for their own correspondence.
Louise Erdrich’s new novel, “LaRose,” begins with the elemental gravitas of an ancient story: One day while hunting, a man accidentally kills his neighbor’s 5-year-old son.
Such a canyon of grief triggers the kind of emotional vertigo that would make anyone recoil. But you can lean on Erdrich, who has been bringing her healing insight to devastating tragedies for more than 30 years. Where other writers might have jumped from this boy’s death into a black hole of despair — or, worse, slathered on a salve of sentimentality — Erdrich proposes a breathtaking response.
She is not, you see, just a great food writer. She is a great writer, full stop. For her, food cannot be separated from the rest of life. A hunger for mayonnaise comes from the same place as a hunger for love. It’s just good deal easier to satisfy.