Wild story about a kidney donor, a short story, and an endless lawsuit

Originally published at: Wild story about a kidney donor, a short story, and an endless lawsuit | Boing Boing


It’s The New York Times Magazine, not New York Magazine. They’re two completely different publications.

Fascinating story, though.

I mean, she undoubtedly did something highly praiseworthy, but if her attitude really was as portrayed (“Why is no one talking about this wonderful thing I’ve done?”), I’m not surprised she got the piss taken out of her.


I would advise against reading this. It’s very long, and at the end you feel like you’ve wasted a bit too much of your life with a pair of completely trivial, utterly insufferable narcissists.


It’s subscription only, so no chance of that. But I was wondering what all the chatter on social media was all about. Makes sense that it’s all just narcissists narcissing. Moving on…

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People love stories about That One Person who makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up the first time they walk into a room. The one that your monkey brain instantly diagnoses as fundamentally broken in ways that will be very bad for the stability of your monkey troupe before they even say a single word.

This story has two of them! It’s like taking a little too much of your favorite drug. You feel like dragged shit after reading it, but what a rush.





“What do you think we owe one another as writers in community?” she would wonder in an email, several months later, to The Times’s “Dear Sugars” advice podcast. (The show never responded.)

The parenthetical in this one line in particular made me absolutely lose it.

My takeaways after having read this a couple days ago:

If you are emailing professional contacts asking them “what do you think of my new missing kidney” because you’ve noticed they haven’t liked a Facebook post in a group about your own kidney donation that created for yourself and added them to without asking, you might not be donating your kidney for the purely altruistic reasons you think you are.


I hope I never find myself in a situation where I have to choose between awkward silence and telling a professional acquaintance that I got an idea for a story about white people self-centering their charitable actions because of something they wrote on Facebook.


I can’t stop thing of this bit from Star Trek

“What I did was supererogatory. Praise, me damnit”


If anyone wants the read the story, but can’t, due to the paywall, I can gift a license.


Nah, I’m good.


Yeah, no thanks. I’d prefer not to contribute to this thirsty litigious narcissist profiting or the NYT giving her a platform.

Though at least with her lawsuits she’s implicitly demonstrated that her transactional view of kindness is driven by a compulsive need to be praised and appreciated.


I think this quote from the article inadvertently, yet perfectly, sums up Dorland and Larson and their entire dispute:

“[Celeste Ng, author: Little Fires Everywhere] admires Larson’s ability to create ‘characters who have these big blind spots.’ While they think they’re presenting themselves one way, they actually come across as something else entirely.”

Big blind spots, indeed.

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here you go:

paywall free for the next two weeks.


Normally I’d say probably not. You can’t copyright ideas or facts, only the specific expression of ideas. So unless Larson copied a specific story written by Dorlan there is no case. You can’t copyright the idea of a person donating a kidney. However, the article points to a specific “letter” which is a plagiarized version of a letter Larson posted to her private FB group, which included some writing group members.

From communications turned over in discovery:

Among her friends, Larson clearly explained the influence of Dorland’s letter. In January 2016, she texted two friends: “I think I’m DONE with the kidney story but I feel nervous about sending it out b/c it literally has sentences that I verbatim grabbed from Dawn’s letter on FB. I’ve tried to change it but I can’t seem to — that letter was just too damn good. I’m not sure what to do … feeling morally compromised/like a good artist but a shitty person.”

So, there is admitted copying. But only this one, small (though perhaps very important to the story) passage, not the entire story.

The article does a good job of covering the nuances of copyright, transformative uses, plagiarism that are potentially implicated in the case.

I don’t know if the two writers are narcissists or not, but the article was still a better read than, say, Wuthering Heights.


Best take on this I’ve seen…


I don’t know which situation irritates me more - Bad Art Friend or the Slate article from Alexis Nowicki.

In Bad Art Friend, Larson was definitely lazy in not transforming the letter that she lifted almost verbatim. And she certainly sent some nasty group texts that come off pretty “mean girls.” But Dorland is a hyper-narcissist who thinks that everyone owes her everything.

Meanwhile, Nowicki takes some basic facts of life (everything is grist for the writer’s mill, the world is full of people who think they know all about you but don’t) and, without directly saying, turns it into some kind of personal violation. If she had not through several coincidences found out about the possible provenance of the story, she would have gone happily through her life without incident.

In both instances I’m amazed at people who can put so much energy into litigating their personal slights when the average person is struggling with how to put food on the table or finding a safe affordable place to live.

Also, I know this is a false dichotomy, but if everyone gets upset every time they think something in a story is about them, we will end up awash in mediocre fantasy, sci-fi, and thriller novels with wooden characters bearing no resemblance at all to real human beings.


You can say that about lots of things done to us. It seems like you are saying that as long as we don’t realize someone has stolen from us or defamed us that it doesn’t matter, because we will live happily in our ignorance.

It’s certainly possible that their is petty narcissism involved in this story, but I disagree with your premise about ignorance == no harm.

Larson’s comments that

that letter was just too damn good.

belie her lawyer’s belief that

there could be no claim against her because, among other reasons, these letters that donors write are basically a genre; they follow particular conventions that are impossible to claim as proprietary.

As a potential reader of Larson’s story, I want to believe that earnestness can be parodied; the fact that Larson ultimately could not reflects poorly. (I happen to like authors who bring out the cringe-- Curtis Sittenfeld, Francine Prose, Julie Schumacher)

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I agree with that general premise. I am having a hard time seeing any harm to Nowicki in “Cat Person.” I did not glean that the story was defamatory or invasive. I have not read the original story so I may be totally off base.