This is a book recommendation, but it is also a New York story, a publishing story, and, perhaps most importantly, a ghost story.
A few weeks ago, following a disastrous morning for New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority that saw eight of its major subway lines—the BDFM and NQRW trains—near-paralyzed due to a power outage for the span of a few hours, I decided, after finishing up my morning's work from home, to avoid taking trains that rely heavily on the F line, as I normally do, and instead head from Brooklyn into Manhattan via lines that were actually working rather than wait for a solution to the problem. So I walked from the coffee shop within which I had taken refuge to Atlantic Terminal, so I could hop on the 3 train.
Because I am a person who works at a publication that covers books, and also because I was in the middle of working on a story on the recent Pulitzer Prize–winning poetry press Wave Books, I was reading one of Wave's latest titles, Matthew Rohrer's excellent The Others. The book is a novel-in-verse in which the protagonist of the novel's frame narrative, a mid-level assistant in the publishing industry who rides the F train to a job that's figuratively killing him, reads manuscripts and watches movies and hears stories over the course of a single day in which the common theme is otherworldliness and the presence of ghosts. They are otherwise totally different stories, but they all touch on the otherworldly.
When I got onto the 3 train, I looked up and saw a tall, pear-shaped, wall-eyed, Italian-American-looking man in a royal blue Adidas sweatshirt half-smiling weirdly at me behind his sporty sunglasses. He continued to stare and smile until I got off at the Chambers stop to transfer to the 1 train, the only place you can do before getting to the 14th Street Station. Once the 1 pulled up to the platform at Houston Street, I debarked to run a 10-minute errand, then hopped back on the 1 train to head up the Publishers Weekly offices. And in that car is the same man—only now, on his left cheek, he has an open, bleeding gash stretching all the way down to his jawline. We're talking two inches of cut that was not there before. I looked around and no one noticed or, if they did, they were doing the thing all New Yorkers do when they see strange people doing strange things on the subway. The man smiled that same smile at me until I got off at 14th Street to sprint to the FM train, shaken beyond belief.
Feeling like I had just walked into a Steven Millhauser story or maybe into George Saunders's beloved bardo, I headed into work in a bit of a daze, thinking that maybe it was time to revisit some of my favorite eerie, otherworldly books, like Millhauser's We Others (don't think I didn't catch the nod, Mr. Rohrer) or James Merrill's The Changing Light at Sandover, a 500+ page epic poem about Merrill's use of a ouija board and his consequent communions with spirits. And when I got to work, I found on our book cart a copy—not there yesterday—of Langdon Hammer's Life and Art, a new biography of James Merrill.
Was it real? Or was it all in my head? Either way, you should read The Others. It'll do things to you.