Dan Mallory/AJ Finn and “Bipolar Made Me Do It”

When a famously bad-behaving person uses bipolar disorder, or any other mood disorder, as an excuse for their (unrelated) bad behavior, disabled people suffer.

A.J. Finn is the author of the runaway bestselling thriller The Woman in the Window. His real name is Dan Mallory. He is also, according to a recent profile in The New Yorker magazine, a manipulative, scheming, liar.

The profile is partially an indictment of the publishing industry, which will overlook dissonance and red flags, and partially and exposé of a man who would do anything to get ahead, including lie about the death of his own family members—over and over again.

The piece is worth reading: I found it far more “unputdownable” than the Finn book. “A Suspense Novelist’s Trail of Deceptions,” by Ian Parker, appeared in the Feb. 11, 2019, issue of the magazine.

All of this business about Mallory would be very inside baseball (and by that I mean publishing), entertaining but not crucial—at least to me—were it not something that happened late in the piece:

Mallory said that he’d “struggled for more than fifteen years with severe depression,” and that, in 2015, he had finally been given a diagnosis of bipolar II disorder. This announcement surprised the acquaintances of Mallory’s who spoke to me. Over the years, he had been willing to talk of cancer, near-death, and a brother’s suicide, but he hadn’t mentioned mental illness so severe that he’d sought relief in electric shocks and ketamine.

But Mallory’s story is one of sustained deceptions. His life is rife with lies. I can’t recount the entire profile here, and even if I could, I couldn’t do it as well as Parker does it in his piece. When I read that passage, I was horrified. I have bipolar disorder. Mallory’s words, his massive platform—he’s taken direct aim at me and people like me, and he doesn’t even know it.

Or maybe he does. I don’t know.

Ian Parker, fortunately, doesn’t let the words slide.

Mallory clearly has experienced mental distress. At Mallory’s request, his psychiatrist confirmed to me that Mallory was given a diagnosis of bipolar II. The psychiatrist said that Mallory, because of his mother’s illness, sometimes had “somatic complaints, fears, and preoccupations,” including about cancer. But a bipolar II diagnosis does not easily explain organized untruths, maintained over time.

Some things happened in the weeks that followed the article, and I ended up being asked to write a letter to the editor of The New Yorker. They weren’t able to run it, but I’m running it here. (I appreciate the invitation, and the opportunity to clarify my thoughts on Mallory’s bipolar disorder and deceptions.)


To the Editors of the New Yorker:

As a neurodivergent writer, one with, among other things, bipolar disorder, I was especially upset by how Dan Mallory abused neurodivergence to gain sympathy and manipulate his audience once his lies began to be exposed. His entire story is, of course, one of manipulation, but when his house of cards began to fall, he blamed his actions on a mood disorder — bipolar disorder.

No one should be surprised that someone with Mallory’s documented pattern of manipulation would look to cast blame outward. But in this case, by blaming his bad behavior on a disability that has no clinical relationship to lying about deceased family members or urinating in one’s supervisor’s office, Mallory has hurt people. Bipolar disorder is already stigmatized; we already have to fight, every day, against misperceptions about what it means to have this diagnosis. Mallory’s words quite literally make the lives of people with bipolar disorder worse.

Those who believe his story will believe that the awful, yet incorrect, stories they’ve heard about bipolar disorder must be true. For these reasons, I deeply appreciate how Ian Parker took pains to point out how Mallory’s bad behavior may be clinical, but not of the bipolar variety.

Katie Rose Guest Pryal, J.D., Ph.D, Chapel Hill, N.C.


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