Amid allegations that author Blake Bailey was a habitual sexual abuser, it seemed that publisher W.W. Norton was quick to halt the shipping of Bailey’s bestselling Philip Roth biography, just before it announced it would pull the book from print. Yet, as is usually the case when these situations catch fire, there had been smoke for years.
As Vanity Fair reports that before several of Bailey’s former students came forward to allege that he had groomed them as eighth-graders for sexual relationships that occurred when they were of age—and one former student alleged that he raped her when she was in graduate school—a book critic for the Los Angeles Times said that another accuser, Valentina Rice, told him and his wife that Bailey raped her in their home in 2015.
The book critic, Dwight Garner told Vanity Fair via email that he and his wife were honoring Rice’s wishes by not disclosing the details of Rice’s sexual assault, even as the publication he works for heaped praise on Bailey’s book and eventually was one of the publications that broke the news of the allegations against Bailey:
“She didn’t want us to take any actions, share what had happened publicly, or confront Bailey,” Garner wrote. “The ethical and appropriate thing to do, we felt, was to honor the wishes of our friend, who was the victim.”
Rice also pseudonymously alerted Norton president Julia Reidhead about the assault in 2018, along with alerting the Los Angeles Times, also pseudonymously, though Reidhead could not be reached by a reporter who attempted to follow up. As others came forward with their stories, Rice agreed to go on the record, according to the Times.
“I do want it made absolutely clear that Dwight Garner and his wife have honored my wishes at all times. Their friendship and support have been invaluable to me,” Rice told Vanity Fair in an email.
While the only person whose behavior should be under scrutiny here is Bailey’s, and perhaps his publisher, who did not follow up on reports of his behavior until those rumors gained attention in the national press, this is, unfortunately, a fairly typical story—in the literary world and beyond. A whisper network forms around the horrible, abusive behavior of a (usually) white male author, while his victims and those around them are too scared of repercussions to say anything officially. The abuser keeps on abusing until enough accusers find one another to feel confident coming forward. In the meantime, heaps of money and praise accumulate around the abuser, enshrouding him in a cloak of respectability from which he can deny the allegations and garner sympathy from those who want to believe him.
According to a statement from Norton: “Norton is permanently putting out of print our editions of Philip Roth: The Biography and The Splendid Things We Planned, Blake Bailey’s 2014 memoir. Mr. Bailey will be free to seek publication elsewhere if he chooses.”
Meanwhile, Bailey maintains that the myriad allegations are “categorically false and libelous.” Just like Woody Allen, whose own memoir was dropped by one publisher and just as quickly picked up by another, this vague, blanket denial will probably be enough to ensure he does find that his book finds a home elsewhere.