In the wrong hands, Matthew McIntosh’s second novel, theMystery.doc, could be a murder weapon. The thing is immense — over 1500 pages, a giant blue bludgeon of a book. Once you stop wondering at the sheer size of the thing, your second question is probably: is it any good? And, uh, can you close Instagram and set down your phone long enough to read the damn thing?
You’ll have to trust me when I say that theMystery.doc is surprisingly readable. You might groan when you pick it up and put it in your lap, but you’ll whip through it so quickly that page 100 will arrive before you even know it. And then the rest of the book comes tumbling after.
All of theMystery.doc’s pages are not loaded with text. There’s a lot of blank space, and photographs, and chunks of text broken up into long poems that require the reader to turn pages every few syllables. The rhythm of reading it is a staccato beat, with occasional pauses to refresh. The book simulates the act of trying to read a book in 2017: readers are continually “distracted” with text messages and digital alerts and bizarre images.
theMystery.doc is about a man who wakes up with no idea who he is. He doesn’t know the woman in his bed. He doesn’t know his neighbor’s name. He barely recognizes himself in the mirror. On his computer, there’s an empty document, titled "theMystery.doc." He tries to figure out his identity, and he attempts to unravel the mystery of theMystery.doc. More than just an amnesia thriller, it’s a story of a narrative trying to will itself to life.
This Thursday, McIntosh is making a rare public appearance in Seattle, at Elliott Bay Book Company. Much of the book is set in the greater Seattle area — in Federal Way; on a tour of the thrift stores of the north side, from the Lake City Value Village to the Deseret Industries on Aurora — and so this event has a special meaning to the author and the book. He’ll be showing a short film inspired by theMystery.doc, and then I’ll join him in conversation about his big, ambitious novel that is actively trying to eat the world. This should be a lot of fun.
Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.