There is, however, no way to be sure that these e-mails are not a hoax on the part of the senders, who may well be Ben Greenman's friends, or on the part of some McSweeney's readers thinking they are making fun of other McSweeney's readers or doing what McSweeney's readers are supposed to do. And, of course, my friend Ben, no matter how much I have made him swear otherwise, may have written them himself. That would be very McSweeney's.
It is not just that Dave Eggers has entered that separate dimension of literary success, the Vonnegut, Brautigan, Salinger space, wherein many people believe he has the answer to some of life's very vexing questions ("He raised his baby brother!" ). In addition to that, he may well have made, by his declaration of media independence, the first new contribution in a long time to the art of a literary career (he was disinclined to discuss my theory of his media succession in person or by phone, although he would, he said, take e-mail questions and hinted, too, at new plans and ventures for McSweeney's that he also said he was not willing to discuss).
He has even popularized the literary life. Indeed, he has expanded it into a group profession -- which may well be a necessary step these days; you need acolytes who can help you with your promotion. He has even added to the craft. Every young writer will now surely learn good Quark and HTML skills. More and more writers (young and not so young) will certainly be figuring out how to publish themselves. And, most important, he has changed the literary paradigm: A writer, he has shown, has to recruit his own audience, be responsible for his own community, motivate his own stalkers. The success of A Heartbreaking Work (some people abbreviate it just as Genius) was surely aided by his grassroots-publishing model.
Of course, as befits any movement, McSweeney's loyalists worry that Dave himself may not be true to McSweeney's. That what McSweeney's (and Might before it) may be for him is just a back door to the big-time media. His million-dollar paperback deal has rattled many followers. The report this summer that Dave's young brother, the baby Jesus of the movement, was interning at The New Yorker was, to say the least, unsettling. The recent rumor from Frankfurt, even though roundly denied, that Knopf, as much an old-fart literary symbol as there is, had signed him for his next book, for another million, was also disturbing.
"We really don't know yet," said the stalker, "if this is just all about Dave or if it's so much larger than just one man."