The normally unreflective world of American journalism found itself facing a harsh and unforgiving mirror last March, when The New Yorker printed a two-part feature entitled “The Journalist And The Murderer,” by staff writer Janet Malcolm. Her controversial essay began with this paragraph:
This must be the utmost high point in the history of Tompkins Square Park,” I told Jim Brodie, coming back from a poetry reading three weeks ago.
She’d had so much sorrow in her life, it made for a happy old age. What more could happen? Her husband, a good man, struck down by his heart on the trolley on the way home from work. They brought his salami when they told her. A good man — always thinking of his family. So there she was, a widow with two children. She went to work for a caterer — weddings, bar mitzvahs. All the time on her feet. Her daughter married finally; her son went to California. Her daughter was settled, so she would take care of her, Esther thought. Then, her daughter’s husband had a stroke, he couldn’t move his legs, her daughter went to work in Filene’s basement. No word from the son in California; he had things to do, maybe.
Let’s have drinks,” Donna said. “What do your parents drink?”
Late on this November afternoon, Julia came in through the dim foyer of her own home and passed into its darkened interior. Across the living room, no red pinpoints glowed from the panel of the answering machine, yet she was sure she had turned it on. She had begun to walk toward it when she saw a shape in the darkness, and then the shape moved. Adrenalin stunned her as lights blazed and voices shrieked, “SURPRISE!”