Who is “Petunia_Flowers,” and why is she sending us such literary spam? To evade filters, the pharmaceutical pitches come embedded in a few tantalizing but anonymous sentence fragments—e.g., “rratic ne’er-do-well. Young Emil Gluck was not wanted, and Ann Bartell could be trusted to impress”—which, when tossed into Google, yield a mini-syllabus of off-road offerings. The Gluckin’ spiel is from Jack London’s “The Enemy of All the World,” a misanthropic 1908 fantasia in which our ne’er-do-well, after wrongful imprisonment for murder, becomes an “annihilist,” using a secret device that allows him to spark gunpowder from a distance. Cops shoot themselves; the king and queen of Portugal are assassinated by their unwitting foot-soldiers; German warships explode on the Hudson. Gluck’s ghostly terrorism triggers wars.
That same spam ends with a creepier bit (“Death was the glass; death was between us, coming to the woman first, hundreds of years ago”), which only the most devout Woolfian would recognize from the elliptical “A Haunted House” (1921). Subsequent e-mails include phrases from Irwin Shaw’s 1939 “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses,” a potent dose of New York nostalgia; Guy de Maupassant’s “A Coward” (1931), a duel story with a twist; and more recent fare culled from Tobias Wolff and George Saunders. We’ll pass on the Viagra, but this aleatory anthology is an unexpected—dare we say welcome?—diversion.