When you are reminded (and reminded) the book is fiction but can’t help believing it is fact: metafiction meets realism

Recently through another blog, we came across the following web site:


Accompanied by some creepily contemplative music, the site opens to the depiction of a castle with blinking yellow windows backed by a billow of clouds. Across the keep is written “Hotel” and the viewer understands that the site is promoting a hotel called The Keep. Following the links, the viewer learns that this hotel has an unusual philosophy:

You are almost here. Which means you're on the verge of an experience that will send you home a slightly different person than the one you are right now. The Keep is an electronics and telecommunications free environment. Close your eyes, breathe deeply: you can do it. We have a secure vault, where all your gadgetry may be stored when you arrive. This ritual of renunciation is important. If you feel the urge to thwart it, pay attention. You may not be ready. We provide loose, comfortable clothing that looks the same rain or shine, day or night, no matter who wears it, so you can look at other things.

When we stumbled across the site last week, our first creeped-out reaction was: OMG, it’s all true! Jennifer Egan based her book, THE KEEP, on an actual place!

Then we saw the link to publisher Alfred A. Knopf at the bottom of the page and it dawned on us that this was a promotional site for the book and a very clever one because it took so little to push us into believing that aspects of THE KEEP are real. Egan does that good a job of telling her story.

The achievement is all the more remarkable because throughout the book Egan reminds the reader over and over that the book is a work of fiction.

The book opens as a communications-obsessed character named Danny is making his way to a castle, somewhere in Eastern Europe. Danny is invited to the castle his cousin Howie, who owns it and is renovating it into a hotel from which outside communication will be pretty much prohibited. No TV’s, No phones, so that guests can reconnect with their imaginations. Danny and Howie have a history. As children they invented a fantasy game called Terminal Zeus but their bond was broken when Danny abandoned his cousin in a cave. Howie was lost for three days underground. Thus, the castle invite he extends to Danny is suspect.

Absorbed in this story, the reader learns that it is being written by a guy in prison named Ray, and a whole other story unfolds about Ray and the teacher of his prison writing workshop, a recovering meth addict named Holly.
Thus, Danny and Howie are designated as fictional characters and the castle with its turgid “Imagination Pool” into which Danny’s cell phone disappears, network of subterranean tunnels and off-limits keep, as a fictional place, the web site notwithstanding. Fiction that deals with the writing of fiction is known as metafiction. Metafiction became prominent in the 1960’s with books such as John Barth’s LOST IN THE FUNHOUSE and Thomas Pynchon’s THE CRYING OF LOT 49.

What makes THE KEEP remarkable is that Egan is able to manipulate the text to make her points about writing fiction and still make the reader believe deeply in the story, both the stories. “Very few writers, or our time or any other, have been able to bring that combination off,” wrote Madison Smartt Bell in the New York Times when the book was first published in 2006.