Measure for Measure, October 2017

theMystery.doc by Matthew McIntosh review

I arrived home on a normal August night to a compact yet 4 lb. package sitting outside my bedroom door. I had no recollection of recently ordering anything. The cardboard seemed professional, folding into itself with a hinge on the back. I was hoping that I had won a contest I didn’t know I entered, a long-time dream of mine. I hefted the box onto the kitchen island and took scissors to its clear packing tape. There, wrapped delicately in a thin sheet of silver tissue paper, was theMystery.doc, Matthew McIntosh’s then yet-to-be released sophomore novel. “Oh yeah,” I thought to myself, “I forgot this was coming.”

Someone once told me that if you write reviews of books, you can email a publisher and request an advanced copy of any upcoming novel. The review, however, can be something as simple as brief review on Goodreads, the book-based social media site. A friend of mine asked if I had heard of theMystery.doc. “Crazy 1,700 page novel”, he said. “My friend is saying it’s awesome. He hit me up cuz he knows I like Pynchon and said it was in the same school.” I sent off an email to Grove Atlantic. “I just caught wind of Matthew McIntosh’s theMystery.doc and have to say I’m very intrigued,” I wrote. The next week, I had a free copy of the book. I had never written a book review before, not even on Goodreads, where McIntosh had three followers. Now, at the time of writing this, he has six (two of them being myself and a friend I told about the book).

McIntosh’s goals were to write a book that “is a modern epic about the quest to find something lasting in a world where everything — and everyone — is in danger of slipping away” and his attempt created a most maximalist book.

The book itself is this thick, sprawling jumble so dense it comes with it’s own built-in bookmark like a Bible. Before even opening the book, it is record setting. Coming in at 1,653 pages, this book is already on the list of longest novels (and features praise from Alan Moore on the back, author of other longest novel list occupant Jerusalem). But the majority of this book is taken up by space. While the book is disgustingly large, most of the pages are filled with photos, a few words, or white space. This novel makes sense of how Harold Bloom could allegedly read 1,000 pages in an hour; flipping pages every few seconds is empowering as the reader tries to dominate this leviathan.

The novel is broken down into several seemingly unrelated parts: a writer working on a novel who wakes up with no memory and a blank document on his computer that is supposed to be the his work for the last decade, a website greeter who works for a website greeting company field inquiries, transcriptions of interviews, stories of death and terror. “All you need is there to understand,” the novel tells us. Acknowledging that life is “impossible to document,” McIntosh tries to put every possible existential query into a single place, albeit obscured and unconnected.

No one wants to be the reviewer who shames their family name for generations to come by insulting a future classic calling it remedial or unreadable. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to yearn for a more narrowed focus when reading a book like this. I love a good flirtation with the difficult or unnecessary within literature, but the end goal should be to illuminate an extremely difficult point, not simply expand the format of the novel.

Ned Russin

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