THEMYSTERY.DOC by Matthew McIntosh


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A vast, beguiling, but mixed-bag postmodern novel of ideas, misread intentions, and robots, told in words, pictures, symbols, and even blank pages.

After a long absence following the 2003 publication of his ambitious but much shorter novel, Well, McIntosh returns with a sprawling yarn that at first plays with the conventions of the mystery genre; a writer awakens to find that he cannot remember who he is, while a beautiful woman asks gently, “You all right, babe? You look kind of dazed.” He is even more puzzled to find a blank document on his computer—if it is indeed his computer in his own house—with the title “themystery.doc,” which, a helpful friend reminds him, he has described as “a post-post-neo-modern mystery story.” Shades of meta—and with a Schrödinger-ian dead cat to boot. If the reader isn’t similarly dazed at this point, then he or she hasn’t quite appreciated what’s going on in a tableau as blurry as our protagonist’s glassless vision. Now, why can’t he remember where and who he is? One clue is that his head hurts—and, given the diet of drugs that flows through the book, it’s small wonder, to say nothing of the spasms of violation and violence. Like kindred spirits William Vollmann and Mark Danielewski, McIntosh aspires to philosophy; one preoccupation is religion, with small lessons delivered here and there by characters like the plumber who snakes the drain while describing “a system of commerce which was run according to Christian principles,” aspirationally called “Kingdom of Heaven, Incorporated, International.” It being a mystery, the angel of death hovers always in the wings, with tabloid-ish news flashes, photos of the twin towers collapsing, and so forth to remind us of our mortality—and, it seems, our vulnerability in the face of the helpful bots (“Hello, I am Michele, I am the website greeter”) who pepper these pages.

Perplexing but often wonderful; while some of this seems written in a self-indulgent private code, what is accessible can be provocative and fascinating.

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2491-3
Page count: 1664pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2017


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