You’re going to Paris. It’s an 8-hour flight from New York. You want something to read on the plane. You’ve been meaning to read Robert Fisk’s Pity the Nation, but you’re not sure you’ll be able to concentrate. The last four days have been wrecked.
The name on the ticket is Antonios Demetriakis. It matches the name on the passport. The picture in the passport doesn’t match what you saw in the mirror. The feeling that aliens from Planet Zworg have performed plastic surgery while you slept is not unfamiliar.
The plan suggested by the documentation leads inexorably doomwards, to passport officials, security guards, petty teetotalitarian apparatchiks unlikely to be open to the Zworg hypothesis. Failure to follow the plan may prompt swift reprisals from Zworg. You want something to read on the plane, but this is no time for Pity the Nation.
The book is on a table in [Barnes & Noble/Borders/Waldenstone’s/Dalton’s/Other, delete as appropriate], part of a 3-for-2 offer. You’ve also been meaning to read Seymour Hersh’s Chain of Command, and this too is in the 3-for-2 deal. They’ve got Gravity’s Rainbow by the notorious recluse Thomas Pynchon. Mao II by DeLillo, The Border Trilogy by McCarthy, Catcher in the Rye by Salinger, notorious recluses to a man. They’ve got The Loser, a novel about the notorious recluse Glenn Gould by the notorious misanthrope Thomas Bernhard. They’ve got Lotteryland by the reclusive misanthropic Zozanian. You feel surly and uncommunicative, you hate your fellow man, reclusiveness and misanthropy could be the hair of the dog. They’ve also got Helen DeWitt’s new book, Your Name Here.
Your friend Mike has been telling you for years to read DeWitt’s first book, The Last Samurai (which is not on the 3-for-2 table). He went to his friend Dan’s place in Seoul in 2002; the book was lying on the bed, which took up 60% of the studio apartment. (Dan is now a big pop star with a bigger apartment.) Mike didn’t much like the cover; he asked: “Is this a romance novel?” “It’s fantastic, you should definitely read it,” said Dan. The book was in surprisingly good condition. “You finished it?” “Just the first chapter. But it’s good.” Mike was bored, needed a book, smuggled it out in his bag, read it in two days, called Dan. “Yeah, what’s up?” said Dan. “Yo, Last Samurai is so good. It’s so fuckin’ good.” “Yeah, I told you it’s good. Did you take my fucking book?” Mike hung up, smoked five cigarettes, went to sleep. Told all his friends, including you, to read the book. You’d heard the book was full of Greek and Japanese, a much-needed gap in your life, and Mike said, “No, no, you have to read it, it’s fucking great, there is Greek and Japanese, but it’s motivated.” But Mike is the first-son-of-the-first-son-of-the-first-son-of-the . . . for 11 generations going back to King Sejong, inventor of the Korean alphabet. This may be the warped perception of a descendant of Korean royalty with alphabetic obsession in the DNA. Also, Mike is not unconnected with your present hatred of the world. Not unconnected with bad, baaaaaaaad nights at Kim’s Korean Karaoke. Not to be trusted.
Something’s bothering you, but you can’t put your finger on it.
You pick up Your Name Here. There’s a quote on the cover.
“I give it 8 1/2!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Janet Maslin, New York Times.
You open the book. Who are these people? What’s going on? Where is it going?