New novel ‘theMystery.doc’ takes a 21st-century approach to fiction

Matthew McIntosh’s book will send you down a contemporary Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole.


by Matthew McIntosh

Grove, 1,664 pp., $35

Reading “theMystery.doc” is like wandering through a gigantic art installation: On white walls there are looped filmstrips depicting events in slow-motion and groupings of old family photos; computer monitors are scattered everywhere, most showing message-board postings or cryptic codes; from unseen speakers issue phone conversations or snippets of lectures. You stop for a few minutes to watch actors in the middle of mundane activities. You keep getting ambushed by exhibits on the 9/11 attacks. You pick up various documents, some of which have been redacted in black or look like avant-garde poems. You feel like Alice in Wonderland.

After publishing the widely praised novel “Well” in 2003, Matthew McIntosh began this mammoth project. It’s a supersize version of “Well”: same desolate setting and downbeat prose style, same puzzling digressions, same unusual form and expressive typography. But everything here is blown up to Imax proportions.

McIntosh often appears under his own name in these pages, at work on this long novel, and when asked what it’s about, he answers, “I’m writing about America.” That’s pretty vague, a friend tells “Matt,” and questions him with growing exasperation on what his novel is specifically about, but Matt admits, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” He doesn’t even know whether to classify it as fiction or nonfiction. All he knows is: “I’ve found my mind” in the process of writing the book.

Author appearance

Matthew McIntosh

The author of “theMystery.doc” will speak, in conversation with Paul Constant, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14, at Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, Seattle (206- 624-6600 or

“Oh no,” his friend groans.

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A performance piece about the artistic process, during which the author occasionally addresses the audience about his aesthetic struggles and ambitions, is one way to think of this unusual work. McIntosh is certainly shooting for the moon: He yearns “to write mankind’s next immortal masterpiece. The next ‘Divine Comedy’ or ‘Aeneid’ or ‘Moby-Dick’ or ‘Thousand and One Nights.’ ”

“TheMystery.doc” is not in their class, but the failure to achieve one’s…

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