I saw some friends on Twitter harshing on a story by Malcolm Gladwell in the Guardian, so I was curious enough to read it. I’m not a fan of Gladwell’s shtick, so I wanted to see if this was more reason to think he’s too pleased with himself.
But by the time I read the third paragraph, I smelled a rat. See what you think:
Many years ago I ruined a beautiful friendship, and it was over a song, which sounds like a strange thing to ruin a friendship over. And what makes it even stranger is that the song was sung with the utmost love and affection.
My friend’s name was Craig, and I met him at college. We both went to a place called Trinity at the University of Toronto, and it’s this weird little place.
We would wear long black academic gowns, and jackets and ties to all meals, and we would say Latin grace before we ate. We didn’t really have jocks because we weren’t large enough, and we didn’t really have a party culture because we were too nerdy for that. All we really ever did was sit around and make fun of each other. We did this to an extraordinary extent, and the person who was best at that game of making fun of everyone was my friend Craig.
Craig was this tall, incredibly handsome guy, and he had this extraordinary charisma. Women flocked to him. He was just this sort of legend with the ladies. He had this sense of humour that was something that I had never encountered before. And he really kind of led us like the Pied Piper.
That’s only the start of the third paragraph, but it’s the place where I put on the brakes and reread those first five sentences of the third paragraph.
Ok that’s not Gladwell talking as himself. Not possible. He writes for the New Yorker. He wouldn’t be writing for his local free weekly if that were his real way of writing. It’s a parody of some sort, with a highly unreliable narrator. Adults don’t write “this tall, incredibly handsome guy” and “he had this extraordinary charisma” right on top of each other like that. They don’t write it at all. The first person in this piece is not Malcolm Gladwell at all, just as Holden Caulfield wasn’t J D Salinger and Huckleberry Finn wasn’t Samuel Clemens.
It’s a story of the kind Ring Lardner was such a genius at, in which a rather horrible narrator reveals how horrible he (it usually was a he) is without ever realizing it himself.
I can’t say I think it’s very good, because it’s too unsubtle, but it at least isn’t bad in the sense that it reveals Gladwell to be like the narrator.