36 Authors Times ‘Fourteen Days’ Adds Up to a Mixed Literary Experiment

FOURTEEN DAYS, edited by Margaret Atwood and Douglas Preston

New Yorkers generally don’t talk to their neighbors. This is to preserve psychological boundaries while living stacked on top of one another like ice cubes in trays.

When the apartment threshold is breached in fiction — I’m not counting sitcoms like “Friends” and “Seinfeld” and their ersatz Manhattans — there is often something sinister afoot, as in the novels turned movies of the late, under-regarded Ira Levin (“Rosemary’s Baby”; “Sliver”).

A new novellus about Lower East Side neighbors called “Fourteen Days” seeps creepy, in this fine tradition, through most of its 350-plus pages. “Novellus” is Latin fornew, but the “us” sounds extra-right here because this is collaborative fiction, by 36 authors of various ages, ethnicities, genres and degrees of fame (John Grisham and Scott Turow are among the higher-flying contributors).

Why would anyone organize such an experiment, with its air of an overbooked open-mic night with a few surprise guest stars and peanuts scattered on the sticky floors?

Because of the pandemic, during which writers — less essential workers than potential ones even when things are going great — had way more free time, and precipitous drops in income. If “Fourteen Days” makes any money it will benefit the Authors Guild, a worthy organization. But will it benefit you, the reader?

Some of our finest novelists, including Sigrid Nunez, Michael Cunningham, Louise Erdrich and Ann Patchett, have already incorporated Covid-19 into their work. “Fourteen Days” is a freshly buried time capsule, cracked open.

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