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Book News: 'Fatal Vision' Author Joe McGinniss Dies

Joe McGinniss, who wrote a book about former Gov. Sarah Palin, poses for a photograph at the home he rented next to Palin's house in Wasilla, Alaska.
Dan Joling
Associated Press
Joe McGinniss, who wrote a book about former Gov. Sarah Palin, poses for a photograph at the home he rented next to Palin's house in Wasilla, Alaska.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Joe McGinniss, author of the true crime book Fatal Vision and the titular "journalist" of Janet Malcolm's scathing study The Journalist and the Murderer, died on Monday, his attorney told The Associated Press. He was 71. Malcolm's book opens with these two sentences: "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. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse." She was referring to McGinniss, who wrote Fatal Vision about Jeffrey MacDonald, who was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two daughters in 1970. According to Malcolm, McGinniss pretended to believe MacDonald's claims of innocence to gain his confidence, though his book ultimately portrayed him as guilty. McGinniss rejected Malcolm's accusations, writing that he wanted to believe MacDonald, but that his views shifted over the course of the trial: "Day after hot, humid day I would sit in court looking at crime-scene photographs that depicted the carnage inflicted upon MacDonald's wife and daughters. Then, within the hour, he'd be chatting affably with me. Each time, my reaction was the same: this man could not have done this to those people. Yet every day the evidence mounted. Concrete physical evidence; unambiguous, clear. It could not be, yet it was. He could not have, yet he did." McGinniss' other books include The Selling of the President 1968, an exploration of the political theater behind Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential run, and The Rogue, a book about Sarah Palin — which he researched by moving into the house next door to hers in Wasilla, Alaska.
  • George Saunders' story collection Tenth of December has won yet another major literary award – the first annual Folio Prize, worth £40,000 (about $67,000). Last week, he won the $20,000 Story Prize. "Saunders's stories are both artful and profound," Folio Prize chair Lavinia Greenlaw in a statement. "Darkly playful, they take us to the edge of some of the most difficult questions of our time and force us to consider what lies behind and beyond them. Unflinching, delightful, adventurous, compassionate, he is a true original whose work is absolutely of the moment." Accepting the award Monday night, Saunders said, "I think in a time like ours, where so much of the public discourse tells us that we are antagonistic, that we're separate, fiction is a wonderful way to remind ourselves that actually that's a lie."
  • Kevin Prufer has a poem called "How He Loved Them" in The Paris Review about a car bomb that blows up in front of a courthouse. (Read an interview with Prufer about the poem here). It ends:
  • "What the colonel had done that day

    had troubled his heart,
    but the sound of his granddaughters' laughter
    lifted him high into the air
    like a scrap of burning paper
    blown from the street into the trees."

  • Audiobook narrator Simon Vance speaks to Slate about his job: "Many people read to themselves so fast — sometimes scanning the page in apparent moments of not-much-going-on to get to the next bit of action — that the audiobook listening experience can actually be richer for the way it forces one to listen to the book at a narrator's pace."
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.
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