In Decameron Boccaccio, a group of travelers take shelter from the Black Death in a town outside Florence and share their stories. In today’s capture for Covid’s time, with authors ranging from John Grisham to Outlander author Diana Gabaldon, the characters are like a group of neighbors in Manhattan tenement at the time of a coronary virus pandemic.
Edited by Margaret Atwood, Fourteen Days: The Unauthorized Gathering is a collaborative novel dreamed up by author Douglas Preston to support other writers during the pandemic. With partners also including Tess Gerritsen, Emma Donoghue, Celeste Ng, Dave Eggers and Angie Cruz, the book is set at the beginning of the days of crisis, as a diverse group of neighbors are left behind. “As the rich flee from the city” gather on the roof of their building and start sharing their stories.
“I came up with the germ of the idea when I read Decameron as a teenager. I’m a collector of stories, and my first thought was to cram all of those stories into a frame narrative like the Decameron, in which a group of people return to an estate on the Maine coast at the time of a pandemic. But when I tried to write, the result was unusual, so I quickly abandoned it, ”said Preston. “Then came a real pandemic.”
Preston is president of the Society of Authors, and a group of writers had been thinking of making an anthology. “But gatherings can be pretty quiet,” Preston said. “It occurred to me that Decameron’s idea could be brought into the present day, and involve New Yorkers in Covid’s tenement, which gathers at the top every evening and start telling stories to pass the time – all sorts of stories: embarrassing, poignant, funny, horrible, engaging and compelling. ”
Atwood agreed to be an editor, and invited, Preston said, “a select group of writers, from romance novels to Shakespearean scholars, from poets to mystery writers, from children’s authors to journalists to science fiction writers”, to add.
“I was amazed at how many authors liked the idea and wanted to get involved,” Preston said. “Not only did they write stories, but they also created characters on top to tell them. In this way, fourteen days became a kind of protest against balkanisation of contemporary literary culture. The result is catchy and lively, unlike stories told at a dinner party, late in the evening, with suspicious sobriety guests. I don’t think a group of authors, or works, have ever been brought together like this before. “
Atwood said that the characters created by her contributors “have a lot to say to each other about life during the pandemic and even more about life in general, sometimes getting into conversations, debates or quarries entirely – and sometimes finding a solution in unexpected times of empathy and connection ”.
The writers will remain anonymous until the end of the book, when it will be revealed who wrote the story. “Reading the book is a fun literary thinking game, but it also has a deeper message, being a toe in the eye of the byline’s literary reputation and fetish,” Preston said.
The Authors’ Association has signed a contract with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the US, and Vintage in the UK, to publish fourteen days in the spring of 2022. A “huge” donation from Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins means that all participants receive an honorarium for the project, but all proceeds will go to the Authors Guild Foundation, which supports U.S. writers; a recent study found that authors reported losing an average of 49% of their pre-distributed income.