Mess has always inspired fervent emotions in Janet Malcolm. It agitates her. It depresses her. She considers it her enemy. The job of a writer, she likes to remind us, is to vanquish mess—to wade onto the seething porch of actuality, pick out a few elements with which to make a story, and consign the rest to the garbage dump. Images of clutter and panic-inducing domestic chaos crop up frequently in her work, not just as metaphors for the failure or absence of art, but as advertisements for her own narrative discipline. But if literal messes appall Malcolm, they also fascinate and attract her.
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