It arrived at the top of the pandemic, in a brown envelope without a return address and too many stamps, none of which had been marked by the post office. It was addressed to me at my parents’ Unique York City apartment, the place I haven’t lived in extra than a decade. My mother mature the envelope as a notepad for a few weeks, then handed it off to me in July; it was the first time I’d considered her after months of quarantine. Internal the envelope was a small, stapled book—a pamphlet, really—titled “Foodie or The Capitalist Monsoon that is Mississippi,” by a author named Stokes Prickett. On the hide, there was a photograph of a burrito truck and a examine that read “Advance Promotional Copy: Attain No longer Read.” The book began with a Cide Hamete Benengeli-vogue introduction attributed to a Professor Sherbert Taylor. Then a fifty-5-page bildungsroman written briefly sections with boldface titles. The prose reminded me a bit of Richard Brautigan.
Because I write book evaluations, dozens of unsolicited books are despatched to my apartment each month. Many of them, I confess, barely catch my attention earlier than they’re added to a stack on the floor. Nevertheless I sat down and read this one all the way thru. The narrator of “Foodie” is Rusty, who thinks back on his days in excessive college, when he worked as a thumbtack-maker’s apprentice, then in a floor-mat factory. Rusty meets another child from college, an idealist called Foodie whose real name is Gourmand, and whom Rusty describes as “a tetherball champ, a king of the taco stands,” in a metropolis “at the edge of the 8-track suburbs.” Foodie, Rusty says, “was the kindest werewolf on the warfront, and I was his hairdresser.” They start spending time with a hulking, ruthless classmate named Dale, who’s “accurate-handed and immoral as parchment,” and fated to die younger because he has a white-collar job that causes him to skedaddle thru time extra quickly than his chums accomplish. After Dale’s death, Foodie and Rusty part ways.
The book was accurate. Nevertheless who was Stokes Prickett, and how did this person get my parents’ address? Initially, I suspected a friend who was fond of pranks or an enemy who knew that I was at chance of skedaddle down rabbit holes. I posted details about “Foodie” on Twitter, hoping to drum up some information. A few other folk told me that they had also acquired it—they have been mostly writers, editors, and critics—however no person had a clue about what was happening. The author Ryan Ridge identified that Prickett regarded as if it can be a fan of the magazine that he edits, Juked. Several Juked contributors had acquired the book. I e-mailed the individual that took the image of the burrito truck, which is in the public domain. “I’d savor to explain you about it,” the photographer answered, “however I have no idea what you’re talking about :).” In the introduction to “Foodie,” Sherbert Taylor writes, “I steal to dissuade his obsessive biographers and accept that his identification is handiest unsought.” Perhaps the professor was accurate.
A couple weeks later, “Foodie, Part Two” arrived, again at my parents’ apartment, with even extra stamps, none marked by the post office. It was longer than Part 1, and featured a Canadian break-dancing competition. Dale returned as a ghost; Rusty had a savor passion named Fontanelle. (“She smoldered savor art on fireplace,” Rusty says, “however her boyfriend had the charisma of a wharf.”) I also chanced on a Sherbert Taylor Twitter account, which had posted links to a SoundCloud account with recordings of anyone reading snippets of “Foodie.” I followed all and sundry who followed that Twitter account and all and sundry who had reported receiving “Foodie.” When anyone despatched me a lead, I followed all and sundry that person followed. I searched for mutual contacts, and drew up a list of suspects. It was fairly long. I despatched my list to all the titillating parties. A number of them have been haunted by Prickett’s train of mailing addresses that weren’t readily available. I figured that Prickett was the usage of an online database; for a few dollars, you can discover a aesthetic amount of private information. I’d filed taxes from my parents’ address for years.
In August, I relocated there to assist my parents in the route of the pandemic. My lifestyles in the route of this era was recursive: the same faces on Zoom, the same masked walk each day, the same sirens speeding by. I chanced on reading hard and writing very no longer really. “Foodie” offered the ideally suited quest for a lifestyles being led online. Each time I regarded as quitting, a new trace would arrive, a new author I admired would ping my in-box. Prickett helped get me thru.
Nevertheless what was Prickett after, exactly? Had been the anonymous mailings a ploy to skedaddle viral? Was I helping? Generally, when anyone praised a passage from the book that I’d shared on Twitter, that person would attributable to this fact receive a copy in the mail. I learned that a handful of fairly vague Philadelphia musicians had also acquired “Foodie,” and determined to give my investigation a regional focal level. One of these musicians, Ricky Lorenzo, formerly a singer and guitarist for a band called YJY, now defunct, described himself as a “ghost,” and despatched me a cannibal-comedy film that he’d made. I watched it carefully, suspecting that he was Prickett, however I ultimately concluded that he had merely spotted an alternative to promote his cannibal comedy.
The author Joe Samuel Starnes e-mailed me a hypothesis that Prickett was anyone named “Walter T. Hazelgood,” who had audited a class of his years ago however had walked out, crumpling a handout on Freytag’s Pyramid—a dusty bit of structural analysis formulated by a German playwright in the nineteenth century and occasionally taught in introductory creative-writing classes—never to return. I may glean no living author named Walter T. Hazelgood, and celebrated that this supposed author shared his initials with the phrase “what the hell.” I suspected for a long time that Starnes was Prickett. (I was execrable.)
An interview of Prickett, conducted by Sherbert Taylor and printed on several unfastened sheets of paper, arrived at my parents’ apartment. Taylor described himself as a “lonely literary scholar, aging and losing his handsomeness,” who had landed “this Matterhorn of an interview six months ago whereas sandblasting my patio.” I appear to be the handiest individual that acquired this doc; reading it felt a bit savor being taunted. In the fall, some other folk acquired “Foodie, Part 3” and “Foodie, Part 4,” in which Foodie founds a restaurant called Accountable Tony’s and Rusty continues to pursue Fontanelle. I did no longer receive either installment. Had I performed one thing execrable?
Utilizing photos of these recipients’ envelopes, I was finally able to trace the mailings thru stamp cancellation. Earlier in the pandemic, perhaps because of funds cuts, the Postal Carrier hadn’t marked any of the “Foodie” mailings. Now the packages have been stamped with a numeric code that linked to a post office in Unique Jersey. One of my initial suspects was a author named Erik Bader, who, sooner than the “Foodie” saga, had despatched me a book of his attached to an e-mail that began “I’ll make this brief so that you are feeling savor I’ve wasted your time.” He tweeted me a relate of a plaque on a bridge in Unique Jersey that he said he crosses several instances a week. The plaque lists the bridge committee, and the 2nd name on it is Stokes Prickett. (Bader told me that he has since acquired a copy of “Foodie” in the mail.) I was getting closer.
“Foodie 5” was mailed to my parents’ apartment in January. Dale is abducted by ghosts, and Accountable Tony’s burns down. I despatched my list of suspects to dozens of new recipients. The author Rion Amilcar Scott, who had acquired the first “Foodie” a year ago however had no longer opened it till lately, messaged me on Twitter to say that he had spoken with one of my suspects about the Philadelphia music scene. The suspect lived in the same state as the post office in question, and had previously been named as a imaginable Prickett by a mysterious Twitter account that didn’t answer to my subsequent questions. I had e-mailed the suspect at the time, and he had denied data of the complete factor, however this gave the impression savor a breakthrough. I wrote to him again, suggesting that I knew he was Prickett. Hours later, he agreed to talk. He asked that I no longer post his real name, however said that I may describe his career in general terms, and that he would verify all the details with a fact-checker.
The author with the pseudonym Stokes Prickett has published several books with several publishers. (“I’m no longer great at working with other folk,” he told me.) These publishers encompass small self sustaining presses and one Astronomical Five stamp; the books encompass each fiction and nonfiction. “Out of all the various kinds of publishing I’ve performed,” Prickett wrote, in an e-mail, “I’ve most appreciated and loved academic journals with their double-blind glimpse-assessment route of, which comes closest in the world of publishing to sending your shit out to strangers in the mail.”
Prickett told me, “I wrote the first and last paragraphs of Part One a few years ago however I hadn’t gone back to accomplish anything extra with them.” Then, after finishing another book, Prickett, for the first time, took a “long break from writing. I didn’t write a single note for a year,” he told me. “I wasn’t particular if I wanted to jot down any extra. Nevertheless these two paragraphs gained me over. I’d dream about them. Now I wake up indignant to work on Foodie.”
Why no longer get it published? Why send it to a apparently random and relatively small neighborhood of recipients? (Prickett has despatched copies to 5 or six hundred other folk.) “The worst factor about writing,” he told me, “is how long you train working on one thing earlier than you get to reveal it to other folk. It’s a very lonely way to work. You train three or four years on a book and then it takes months to glean an agent, months for the agent to glean a publisher, and then it’s another year or extra earlier than the book comes out . . . The literary trade is suitable no longer remarkable enjoyable.”