Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano’s most famous novel, Dora Bruder, is something like a ghost story, though not in the traditional sense. It is a ghostly story about a young man and a nation haunted by history. Modiano received the Nobel Prize in literature in 2014, the fifteenth French writer to do so after the 2008 laureate Jean- Marie Georges Le Clézio. While Le Clézio’s writing is sensual and tinted with exoticism, Modiano’s is sparse, introspective, and heav- ily autobiographical, sometimes even termed “autofiction.”
The first graffiti I ever saw were unremarkable messages etched into my middle school’s peeling wooden desks: people’s initials conjoined inside hearts, a mysterious pointy S shape, and invitations to “put an x if youre bored.”
One day this summer, sitting in a blank white apartment that was not mine, I felt a strange weariness. This apartment was full of more books than I will probably ever read and I had fellowships to apply to and emails to write and the whole Internet in front of me and all of New York City clamoring outside.
Who would have given a damn about me if not for that box?
As punishment for Prometheus’ gift of fire, the gods gave me to men. They gave me to men. I was a poisoned gift. But the importance of a poisoned gift is the venom it bears, not the gift. The box, not Pandora.
It was 9 a.m. Awakened, as I often am, by sunlight, I opened my door to go to the bathroom downstairs. Supine, to the side of my door, was a male form, blonde and muscular and naked. His hands were cupped over his genitals, his underwear crumpled by his head. His eyes were closed. I froze in surprise, but I had to pee, and out of some ingrained politeness didn’t want to disturb him. I stepped over him quietly and went downstairs.