Matthew McIntosh’s theMystery.doc is a vast, shape-shifting literary novel that reads like a page-turner.
Rooted in the western United States in the decade post-9/11, the book follows a young writer and his wife as he attempts to write the follow-up to his first novel, searching for a form that will express the world as it has become, even as it continually shifts all around him.
Pop-up ads, search results, web chats, snippets of conversation, lines of code, and film and television stills mix with manuscripts, classical works of literature—and the story of a man who wakes up one morning without any memory of who he is, his only clue a single blank document on his computer called themystery.doc.
From text messages to The Divine Comedy, first love to artificial intelligence, the book explores what makes us human—the stories we tell, the memories we hold on to, the memories we lose—and the relationships that give our lives meaning.
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::: I didn’t get you up, did I?
::: Sometimes people are day sleepers, you know, and… I’m just admiring your tree—is that going to be an apple, or…
::: Yeah, we just planted that a few weeks ago.
::: Oh! It looks healthy, it’ll probably do fine there.
::: Do you know much about apple trees?
::: Pardon me?
::: Do you know—
::: Not a lot; what kind is it?
::: It’s a McIntosh.
::: Oh, that’s a nice apple. Yeah, and they’re pretty! I like ’em. I would put a little thing around it, because the stem could easily get broken on you—you know, sometimes even kids will come along and—I saw that just the other day. A little screen around the base that comes up so high to protect it a little bit until it gets a little stronger.
::: Good idea.
::: Yeah, I just planted a dogwood tree two years ago and boy it’s really taken off—you’d be surprised how fast they grow.
::: Yeah! Isn’t it so beautiful out—the flowers are just gorgeous! Well anyway, you’re probably wondering why I’m ringing your doorbell, I’m calling with some good news from the Bible.
::: Seems like we hear a lot of bad news anymore—[clears throat] I mean sometimes things are so bad you wonder if there’s some sinister influence behind all of it. Have you ever thought of that?
::: Uh, yeah, I have actually.
::: Uh-huh, are you a Bible reader at all?
::: Yeah, I read the Bible.
::: Are you familiar with Revelation chapter twelve? Um, let me see here………… You’ll have to pardon my Bible, I always say I’m not gonna mark ’em up and I’ll get another and then… [laughs] Anyway, it goes into here verse, um, twelve verse seven, And war broke out in heaven, Michael and his angels battled with the Dragon, and the Dragon and its angels battled. But it did not prevail. Neither was a place found for them any longer in heaven. So here you have the good angels fighting with the bad angels, at this period of time. And so down the Great Dragon was hurled, the original serpent, um, the one called Devil and Satan who is misleading—notice—the entire inhabited earth… You see what’s going on.
::: And he was hurled down to the earth and his angels—the bad angels—were hurled down with him. And then it says how happy they were, and then it says, On this account be glad you heavens and you who reside in them, Woe for the earth and for the sea, and over here the sea refers to restless humanity. Uh, because the devil has come down to you having great anger knowing he has a short period of time.
::: Short period of time, wow.
::: Well, when Jesus died for us and went to heaven he sat down at the right hand of God, it wasn’t quite time for him to rule in his kingdom.
::: But when he took up ruling in heaven the first thing he did was cast Satan—the devil—and the angels that followed him down into the earth. Um…you probably know how Satan became what he was.
::: How did that happen?
::: Well, in Genesis he was the covering angel over Adam and Eve if you remember, and uh, he was supposed to watch over them, but instead he could visualize Adam and Eve multiplying as God told them to do, and fill the earth and extend that paradise to the whole earth. But um, but he wanted that glory, he wanted to be worshipped, so he uh, he challenged Eve’s rightfulness to rule—I mean God’s rightfulness to tell Adam and Eve what they could do and what they couldn’t do. And remember he said to Eve, let me find it here…Now the serpent—oh, let’s see, where should we start here…um…So [clears throat] here’s the Satan using the serpent, like a ventriloquist, you know. The serpent proved to be the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field that Jehovah God had made, but began to say to the woman, Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden? At this the woman said to the serpent, Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat, but as for eating of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God has said you must not eat from it no you must not touch it lest you die. And at this the serpent—or Satan, you know, speaking through him—said to the woman, You positively will not die. For God knows that on the very day of your eating from it your eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God knowing good and bad—in other words, You don’t need God telling you what to do!
::: Yeah, right.
::: Yeah. And so he told the first lie.
::: So that was a lie?
::: First lie. You will not die, he told them.
::: And she—she—you know she dwelt on it. Instead of putting sin behind us sometimes we dwell on something—you know it’s wrong—
::: And they had everything—I mean they were created perfect, God had personally taught Adam, he let him name the animals that he had created, and uh—
::: What else was it like in Eden, do you think?
::: I beg your pardon?
::: What else was it like in Eden?
::: It was a beautiful paradise!
::: And, God’s person—I mean God’s purpose was to extend that garden to the entire earth, and the earth be filled—in fact before they sinned he gave them the command to multiply, and fill the earth, and uh, at that time…he said here…And God went on to say, Let us make man in our image according to our likeness and let them have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and the domestic animals and all the earth and every moving animal upon it. And down in verse twenty-eight it says further, God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful and be many and fill the earth, subdue it and have in subjection the fish of the sea, the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature moving upon the earth. Well, now we don’t see us in command over the animals, you know. Some of them, some are pretty wild.
::: Yeah, they can get wild.
::: But at one time it wasn’t true. And um so…the earth was completed in the seventh day. And many people tell you, well that was seven literal days.
::: But the Bible says that one day is equal to a thousand years. Because he’s—
::: So seven thousand years.
::: So, uh…we don’t know exactly how long those creative days were, but um, you know, science—God is the greatest scientist, he’s the—so the Bible doesn’t contradict the true science.
::: So, you know, a thinking person knows, after—have you been to college, or…?
::: Um, I spent some time in college.
::: And, and then—just even watching the History Channel, they had a deal on the sun, and how it functions and everything and it was just awesome, because—
::: How does the sun function?
::: Well, the protons and neutrons and everything, I would love to get a copy of that, it was on the History Channel, they’ll probably show it again.
::: Oh yeah?
::: It was just unbelievable.
::: We don’t have cable.
::: Oh, don’t you?
::: Do you have cable?
::: I have a, uh, dish.
::: Oh yeah? Which one do you have?
::: I don’t know, it’s just a—well, it’s a dish that you, like a satellite—
::: Dish Network?
::: Well I live out on Mullan Hill Terrace, um—
::: Do you find you like the service you get with the dish? Because I’m constantly getting advertisements from cable and satellite, and you know it’s just hard to decide in this day and age whether you should get satellite or whether you should get cable… for your entertainment needs.
::: Well, they don’t have cable where I live, I live in a motor home park.
::: So you have to have a dish. You don’t have a choice!
::: No. And I did have cable and I liked cable.
::: Do you find that the reception with the dish is pretty clear?
::: It’s about the same as cable.
::: Uh, when you have a storm, though, sometimes it’ll temporarily go out. A bad windstorm or something.
::: I’ve heard that would happen.
::: What kind of package do you have?
::: I just have the basic, but I think it runs, uh, it goes up all the time—what is it now? I have it taken out every month, it’s automatic—and it’s gone up, let’s see, when I first got it I think it was twenty-nine dollars, I think it’s about thirty-five now.
::: Do they tell you each month when they’re gonna raise the rate on you?
::: Um…no. It just—it just automatically takes it out.
::: And when you check your bank statements they’ve taken more out each month?
::: Yeah, yeah—not each month. They raise it maybe every year or two or three, you know how they do—everything’s going up now.
::: They should give you some notice before they start taking more out of your account, because—
::: Yeah, you’d think so.
::: you could bounce checks or something.
::: Yeah, exactly.
::: But other than that you’re pretty comfortable, you like the service of the Dish Network?
::: Yeah, people are very—oh, the dish? Yeah, it’s been pretty nice. And they don’t charge you for that. I think you have to put a—you have to be with them at least two years. And they give everything free.
::: For what?
::: The little dish that they put on your house.
::: Oh, do they come and attach it to your house?
::: Yeah, they install it and everything.
::: So that’s all free, and then the little handset—let’s see, did we get a handset? Yeah, I think we get a handset too. But you have to sign up for two years.
::: You have to have a two-year commitment.
::: Yeah. And I’ve been there four years.
::: Do you think it’s worth the price that you’ve been paying? I mean for the quality of programs?
::: Well, they’re pretty well—actually they’re pretty well all the same price, pretty much. But yeah, I think it’s very nice. I’ve been happy with it.
::: What kinds of shows do you like to watch?
::: Um, I love the History Channel—I have learned so much on that. Uh, they cover everything. Um, and I like to watch um, 112, Home and Garden. Yeah. Home and Garden. And what else do I like? Cooking Channel and I I like to watch CNN.
::: Oh yeah, for the news.
::: Yeah, I watch them a lot. And uh, local channels. I have 2, 4, 6, and 7, 10.
::: You have the local news?
::: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yeah. I’ve got 2, 4, 6, and—
::: Do you have a favorite local news station that you like?
::: Um, no, it’s just—
::: Just whichever one is on?
::: Yeah. Yeah. I see you’re sorta—you’re sorta—wondering which way to go, aren’t you?
::: Well, you know, I’m just gonna—they send us so many ads for cable and satellite that I’m just gonna have to give in and get one or the other—
::: Yeah, you don’t know which way—I can understand the dilemma—
::: I think maybe if I get either cable or satellite, then maybe they’ll stop sending me flyers in the mail.
::: I— No, I doubt it. I doubt it.
::: You think they’ll still send me flyers?
::: It’s just like you keep getting these things—oh, they want you to uh—um, like Visa or Mastercharge—
::: and all the different banks keep sending you that stuff, so…
::: Well, we rarely get much mail at all except for ads.
::: Yeah, you get sort of tired of it.
::: Yeah, it gets—
::: So just chuck ’em! [laughs]
::: Yeah, but then you have to pay to recycle them.
::: And then sometimes the recycling won’t take certain types of mailers—
::: if they have like a glossy sheen on them.
::: Or if they’re like a full-color uh gloss or—
::: matte or—
::: or something like that. It’s just a challenge…
::: I know, it is.
::: And then you have to pay for your own garbage disposal, so—but if you think about the amount of paper that adds up just from advertising, that’s gonna cost you a pretty penny each year.
::: Yeah, you start trying to cut corners because the cost of living keeps going up and up and up.
::: And uh, you know, things are just continuing to escalate—that, that’s why we—not going back to the Bible, but we can see how close we are—
::: To what?
::: To God’s judgment. We’re living in a judgment period.
::: Do you think that’s because of so much advertising…in the mailboxes?
::: Well, no, I think, um, it’s greed—it’s so much love of money, you know. Instead of being balanced, it seems you see so much corruption—like they just had a senator—I mean here’s this guy—it’s been two years I saw on the news—well, why is it taking two years to indict this man? So when we got—getting into this they found out that he was into graft and corruption and—
::: And bribery!
::: A politician was—
::: A senator!
::: being dishonorable?
::: I can’t think of his name, yeah!
::: Well that’s something else. These are the end times.
::: Yeah! Well they’re always being caught with their hand in the pot lately. We see corruption and this is all over the world! You know, so we’re living in—
::: Not just here.
::: Not just in this country.
::: So we’re living in a judgment period and so it’s so important that we take in knowledge of the Bible. And accurate knowledge. Because uh it’s so important—so many people want to worship God the way they want to, and—
::: Right. And they say, You know what, maybe the Bible’s not true. I’ll find out who God is for myself.
::: That’s what they say.
::: Yeah, and yet this Bible has been perfectly preserved. Even though many—well, the Catholic Church—it’s a well-known fact—tried to—in the Dark Ages tried to suppress this. Because the Catholic Church was formed way back four hundred years after Christ—well, by that time false religion had entered—
::: just like Jesus said it would—when it said, when the apostles were martyred, the early Christians, it said the wolves will scatter the flock, and that happened, you know, and apostasy entered into religion, and some of those pagan doctrines have been handed down until today!
::: Really! You’re kidding me! Like what kind of pagan doctrines?
::: Well, for example, Jesus was not born in December.
::: He wasn’t born in December? He was born on December twenty-fifth.
::: Like about a week short of January.
::: No. Really?
::: Yeah. That was—well, that’s another whole story. He was born about October first.
::: October first.
::: Yeah, the Bible doesn’t say, but he started his ministry when he was exactly thirty—that was fulfilling the—
::: On his birthday?
::: Well, exactly thirty. And that was to fulfill, um……the Jewish requirement that you had to be thirty to become a priest. And he’s our high priest—he needs no successor because he never died. So he waited—then he was serving his father full-time until his death at the age of thirty-three and a half.
::: As a carpenter?
::: Yeah, he was a carpenter, he helped his father—his stepfather—and then when he became thirty he was doing the ministry of his father full-time.
::: Joseph was his stepfather.
::: So he was doing the ministry of Joseph full-time?
::: No, of the Lord.
::: Oh, right, right.
::: See, his father was really God.
::: Right. Right.
::: Joseph was just raising him.
::: Joseph was just—
::: Married to Mary.
::: Mary’s husband.
::: And so—
::: He was a carpenter.
::: He was a carpenter, and Jesus was a carpenter until he turned thirty and then he started serving his father full-time, until he was thirty-three and a half. So if you count back six months, that would take you back to about October first or second he was born. So then they decided—
::: September thirty-first it could have been also.
::: …Yeah. They—they started, uh, celebrating—decided to Christ mass, the mass of Christ, to get the uh, Emperor Constantine, to get the Jews and the Romans together, into one religion. And then they had church-state, you know where the church would govern the state, or the state would govern the state type thing? And uh, he wanted the people to support him, so uh… The Romans celebrated the Saturnalia, the return of the sun.
::: The return of Saturn.
::: Well, the twenty-fifth is the shortest day of the year, right in that area. And they had their pagan celebrations to their gods, you know, they worshipped the sun, the moon, and everything, you know, they even prayed to the Unknown God because they didn’t want to offend anyone.
::: What was his name?
::: And so they just, uh…they… Well, just so they wouldn’t offend maybe some god.
::: Which one?
::: I don’t know, they worshipped everything. They worshipped the creation rather than the creator. The Romans.
::: The Romans!
::: Exactly. So to get the Jews and the Romans together, they decided to start celebrating Jesus’ birthday on October first—well, the Jews did not celebrate birthdays.
::: They didn’t.
::: They considered the day of the death more important. And they didn’t think it was right to build—you know how you’re king or queen for the day and everybody gives you gifts and all this? They didn’t do that. Well, I’ve got some people waiting for me, but do you want me to come back sometime and we can sit down and study some of these things?
::: No, it’s OK. But it’s been really nice talking to you.
::: You have to go now though, huh? You can’t stay and chat more?
::: Well I would love to but I I I uh um, they’re getting cold out there probably. And um—I would like—she has to meet someone at twelve. I have a book: What Does the Bible Really Teach? Have you seen this? And it’s a new book. Do you live here?
::: Well, I’m staying here right now. And I’m not going to be around for very much longer.
::: Oh, I see, you’re sort of going to find your own place.
::: Yeah, I’m not originally from here.
::: Oh, aren’t you? Where are you from?
::: Well, I was born in
::: OK, that’s a nice warm place.
::: When I was two we moved up to Federal Way, Washington…
::: Yeah, I know where that is.
::: Then when I was eight we moved to California.
::: And then eight and a half we moved to England. And then…
::: Oh, was your dad in the military?
::: He was um, he was a drifter, you might say.
::: Uh-huh, OK.
::: And then when I was, um let’s see, ten we moved back to California.
::: And when I was thirteen we moved back to Federal Way.
::: You’ve seen a lot of the world!
::: I lived for a while in Seattle.
::: I’ve lived in Iowa. Let’s see…where else have I lived?…Montana.
::: I’ve lived in Montana too.
::: What part of Montana?
::: I was born in Deer Lodge and I lived in Butte one year. My mom and dad were both born and raised in Montana. And my dad was out of Helena, and my mom lived on a ranch out of Deer Lodge.
::: And I had aunts who lived in Missoula; one in Great Falls, one in Billings.
::: I stayed in Lake Flathead area for a little while.
::: Yeah, that’s beautiful. So are you gonna get an apartment or what?
::: Oh, well, I’m probably going to go back to the other side of the mountains.
::: Are you going to be a drifter like your dad?
::: Um, yeah, maybe. It worked out for him pretty well, until he died recently.
::: Oh, I’m sorry.
::: So what was your name?
::: I’m Alice.
::: Alice. So um, now, I know your friends are waiting so you have to go, but is there anything more you can tell me about this—about the satellite dish?
::: Yeah. They come out and they install it on your roof, and they have to direct it.
::: So that it picks up the—it picks up the uh—you know the uh… So I don’t know if you’d be more satisfied with the cable or that because uh, I don’t know—I don’t think you can go wrong with either one of them.
::: Because they’re both just great?
::: Yeah. So, um, why don’t I leave this with you. This will really direct you. As to the kind of worship that God approves. Do you know God says, Oh, if only you obey my commandments—
::: then it will go well with you—
sorry I lost you for a second
Are you still there?
Yes, I’m here.
May I have your name please?
What happened to you?
I think there was a glitch but it’s fine now
Well, I’m glad you’re back. They call me
Would you like to share your website address with me?
::: I know what all the different religions teach, and I wouldn’t be at your door if I didn’t feel this was the true faith. You know, if I didn’t know for positively, I wouldn’t be out here in the snow and the heat and the rain—I’ve been out doing this for forty-some years. Yeah, I’m seventy-one and I—
::: Well, you’re getting a lot of exercise. You look great for seventy-one.
::: Well, I don’t know about that, but—
::: No, you do.
::: Well, I—
Your diction is different, Michele. Please don’t be offended with my asking, but are you sure you are the same person i was chatting with before?
Yes it’s me
How can I be sure?
Well I re-engaged with you because I was assisting you:)
and there is no other Michele except me in this shift
OK, sorry Michele, I guess I can get a little paranoid. It’s just you never really know who you’re talking to on the web, do you?
you’re right, specially with so many technologies out there
so do you have any other questions for me?
::: See, the thing is—and I know you’ve gotta go—the thing is, it seems to me that God is very large. And that he can’t be contained—
::: in a book.
::: And that all of God’s ideas and everything that God has in store for us, and created for us, it can’t really can’t be conceived by man, so man just has to go out and seek God himself and not necessarily blindly believe in the beliefs of his fathers or in a preexistent faith.
::: Well, let me leave this book for you to examine :::
Yes, still here.
There was a question i wanted to ask before we got off-track. Does it seem to you that in this country we’re not really expected to do anything but buy and consume, or to be anyone but a buyer or a consumer? It feels that way to me.
well I guess that is the life cycle
what do you mean?
well we buy and consume that’s a universal fact. As far as roles are concerned, we all have one.
All of us? What is yours?
well we have a professional life and personal life and the role varies according to that
You’re right, and what I mean is that both our professional and personal lives now seem to be dictated by the consumer environment. We buy personally, and sell professionally.
hmm you’re right
you seem to be doing some sort of research
Well, I don’t often have the opportunity to chat with people like you.
hmm, so do you have any questions regarding our service?
I still don’t have your name by the way :)
Are you there?
Sorry. Yes, still here. I do have questions about the service. This is all part of the decision-making process, Michele. And I did tell you my name. Look up and you’ll see.
yes I got that.
I was just wondering if that is actually your name
Do you like America?
Yes, don’t you like it/
What do you like about America, specifically?
Visitor 1969 I’m Sorry but my shift just ended. Is there something that I can do for you before I log off?
Tell me what’s so great about America.
well I’m a citizen of US and I love everything in this country
like everyone does
including what exactly?
well I like the country and that includes everything
is there anything else I can help you with, today?
would you ever want to come to America?
well I am there.
partly cloudy. 60 degrees. feels like 60 degrees.
I am sorry but I have to logout Now. Incase you have anything Business Related you can call us at 312-
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