JONATHAN FRANZEN: I was sitting in Kirschbaum’s Bakery one morning, halfway through a strudel, when this girl walked up to me, all Helvetica-light glasses, braided hair and jelly sandals, and she says to me “you’re one of them, ain’t cha?”
“Uhhhh,” I said. She nodded slowly and worked with licked middle finger the coconut sprinkles from a half-eaten lamington on the table next to mine. She then picked up the lamington and broke it in half. Inside was a ring with a dolphin inset, blue zircon I’d say. She gave it to me.
“November eight, twenty-four Hunter Crescent, 8:25 on the clock. Wear the ring. Wear a paper bag on your head. As to the rest of the get-up, he doesn’t mind.”
“Who doesn’t mind?” I said. She winked, and smashed a sugar bowl over my strudel. In the gelatine remains, I read: Pynchon.
SADIE STEIN: About half the guests arrived with paper bags on their heads. By 8:30, nobody could be arsed.
MARCUS ZUZAK: It all went down in a Californian beach house, a little way east of Santa Barbara—this huge glass-panelled shanty set halfway in the dunes, surrounded by an actual moat. I was told it was the third-phase conversion of an 80s bar—original name, The Rhomboid Grapefruit & Sash.
HARUKI MURAKAMI: He sure rounded up some big players. Most of them were writers—your Ondaatjes and your Atwoods—but there were also the suits and spinners—the Hollywood sortie, old songsters, fresh desperadoes, ships captains, Korean businessmen, cosmonauts, Icelandic chefs. Foley guys running round like ants, holding mikes to the exploding popcorn machines. Tilda Swinton was there, so was David Bowie. No one could tell them apart. Maggie Smith claimed she saw El Chapo climbing out from the neck of one of the gigantic swan sculptures by the lake, but I haven’t heard anyone yet back that one up.
TERRENCE MALICK: No, I did not go to the party. No, I will not host my own.
WENDELL PIERCE: Pynchon also just chucked these I guess what you’d call “regulars” into the mix. I talked to a guy who had already retired on a patent for the recliner technology you get in comfy chairs. Said he’d just got an invite in the mail. Thought it was a hoax. Still thinks it’s a hoax, actually. But he came anyway. I think he was a lot smarter than a lot of the people who showed.
MATTHEW REILLY: I was invited! Take that Patterson!
CORMAC McCARTHY: I came to the party at 7 o’clock in the evening, but made my way slowly up the drive when it came to entering. The mud mask of the day and its thoughts was still clenched tightly about my skin. The time had come to hoist a circus mask. There is such urgency to dissemble in the primal rituals of men. The vacant sigils, the awful shirts, the fricative sounds of heels scraping, scraping upon dust. As I stood on the drive, contemplating these things, a cold blast of wind came howling from the north like the last dank breath of God. With it came the certainty of death. I looked up at the house, and saw it for what it was— the past trying to make ostentatious salvage of itself. The bodies within believed its florid lights trembled with joy, with life—they did not. They trembled with fear. Outside, from where I stood, the cold candle oblongs shattered the blackness in unyielding rupture, as if a huge sleeping dog had— in the spasm of a nightmare— curled up its jaw in a snarl to reveal pale teeth.
CHUCK PALAHNUIK: Christ, McCarthy is such a massive fucking downer.
DAVID MITCHELL: I spent two minutes talking to McCarthy and actually wanted to kill myself, one minute in. He kept producing these awful prophetic saws, like— and I swear to god this is a word-for-word quote— he said “the horizon thuds a brutal hyphen. An abridgement of the calamity of all who struggle in the muck beneath its awning.” Who the hell talks like that? I bet he has a whole collection of the damned things he keeps in reserve for these kinds of events. But I mean, just being habitually doomy, that’s fine. I can dig the mortality hang-up thing. It’s basically literature. Or literature’s muse, whatever. But more than that, the guy was also just plain rude? Kept saying how he didn’t really associate with authors. “The clan to which he had been wrongly cursed”. I’ve heard he hangs out with scientists instead. Maybe they have ready access to Prozac, I don’t know.
STEPHEN KING: Cormac skulked right past me and stood brooding by a mountain of tuna melt for most of the night. We occupy different kinds of shadow. Mine are more fun to play in.
TIM WINTON: Why didn’t anyone talk to me?
DAVID MITCHELL: Oh man, there was so much food. I mean, it was ridiculous how much food there was. Nothing you’d find on any regular menu though. Captain Crackers in hamster tubes running all around the room, beef tamales wrapped up in these lovely little swaddles of crinkle-foil just oozing guac, chilli pretzels you could stick your arms through. There was this redhead walking round serving pikelets from a pikelet-tower headdress . The maple syrup ran down her neck, down her shoulders, dripped down onto the linoleum.
STEPHEN KING: The main show was the enormous octopus. It hadn’t even been dismembered. I wasn’t even sure if it was dead— some of the tentacles were still twitching, but I’ve heard sometimes they do that, even when the brain is kaput? Trump began tussling with it, pretending it was an alien or something.
CHUCK PALAHNUIK: I’m telling you, it was all about the pizza. There was one table, it must’ve been the size of five pool tables, and basically the top of it was just covered in one enormous margarita pizza. Rosy little plump cherry tomatoes as far as the eye could see. There wasn’t a slicer though, so people just started kind of tugging off chunks. It was kind of pathetic.
HEMINGWAY’s GHOST: If a man is to be a man, he must know by instinct when intervention is the same thing as duty. I saw the results of their efforts—the tatty base, the cheese fraying over the tabletop—and the shame in my brothers ran deep.
MARGARET ATWOOD: Yeah, Hemingway cut the pizza for us. I don’t know how exactly, because the switchblade he used was transparent. But he did it. He mostly wafted backwards and forwards through the venison after that. Last time I saw him, he was sitting in the gravy boat like it was a hot tub, showing off his boar-hunting scars to Amy Schumer, who was like “yahhhhhhhhhh?”
DONALD TRUMP: Every lady writer at the party was flirting with me. And the maids. They couldn’t help it— I don’t blame them. Even the Mexican lady! Ha! Ha! Goes to show, doesn’t it! They know I’m the one that’s going to be syndicating their wordy snob nonsense come November next year.
JK ROWLING: Trump thought I was a maid. There were no maids at that party. Cannot wait to tweet about this!
DAVID MITCHELL: At one point Trump straight-up ignored Murakami… it was really awkward.
HARPER LEE’S AGENT: I thought he was rather pleasant. We were in the middle of a good parlay over the state of modern America when Hilary butted in.
TONI MORRISON: Yeah, it was kind of weird. Pynchon had hired this lanky-as-hell teenager to wheel round a Mac computer on a truncated dinner cart so that Hillary could video-link the show from Wales or whether the hell she was calling from. She’d shout to him “forward! Right! Thirty degrees! The billiard room! The billiard room!” and just jam herself into any old corner. After a while, people pretended there was a bug in the audio system.
HILARY MANTEL: I feel new communications technology allows for unique, trans-versal, liberated forms of engagement, where I can be talking to Franzen about the gender asymmetry in his novels at an important dinner function whilst at the same time wearing slippers and writing my new novel. Honestly, it’s the way of the future.
JK ROWLING: She has the eyes of a newt.
HILARY MANTEL: I had a gorgeous time.
DAVID MITCHELL: So of course, everyone was wondering— when are we going to see our host? Are we going to see our host?
MARGARET ATWOOD: Ten o’clock, twelve o’clock, three…people started giving up, drifting out.
JONATHAN FRANZEN: Fucking “I’m-such-a-Mystery Man”. Oh, oh, oh I’m so postmodern, I’m not afraid of printing sentences like “danger’s over, Banana Breakfast is saved.” He loves the attention. Loves it.
HARUKI MURAKAMI: He never showed in the end. Or, maybe he did. Maybe we just didn’t realize it. He could have been anybody really. He could’ve been that one guy who never removed the paper bag from his head. He could’ve been the dude who ran round shouting “I’m Thomas Pynchon! I’m Thomas Pynchon!” the whole evening. He could’ve been the guy hashing out the best way to marinate wild mushrooms with Matthew Holness. He could’ve been Matthew Holness. Who knows, man. Who knows.
THOMAS PYNCHON: ? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ?
Words by Kate Prendergast