The Dark Night of the Novelist

Helen DeWitt, author of the brilliant and wrenchingly original The Last Samurai, disappeared in May 2004 from her home in Staten Island after sending a suicidally despondent email to friends. She was found a few days later in Niagara Falls, to all accounts in good condition, and briefly hospitalized.

And then, this past summer, over a year later, DeWitt apparently went around to blogs linking on the story, posting brief accounts of the experience in the comments. (Well, DeWitt or someone making a significant effort to imitate her writing. Can’t rule that one out, either.) Here is one version:

Kafkaesque experience. NF cop says: If you don’t come voluntarily I have to take you in, but it’s better if you come voluntarily. Night nurse at NF psychiatric ward says: We can admit you voluntarily or involuntarily, but it’s better if you are admitted voluntarily. I don’t have all night. I’ll be back in 5 minutes. If this form isn’t signed I’ll admit you involuntarily.

I signed. ‘Under observation’ = something like torture lite. You’re deprived of sleep. One person after another asks the same questions. It’s important to be upbeat, sincere, spontaneous, thoughtful - sort of like a book tour, except they’re doing their damnedest to keep you away from the press. No minibar. Now I’m in Berlin. Trying to finish 3 books. Still dealing with too many bad people.

Read The Last Samurai. Read it now.