The first sign that something strange was going on at The Forgotten, a new salon series literary doyenne Brooke Geahan kicked off Sunday night, was the ratio of hostesses to attendees.
We had come to hear a reading of “Solace,” a new short story by Jay McInerney put out by Ms. Geahan’s soundtrack-augmented e-book house, Booktrack. But the number of pretty, young female attendants on hand made it feel more gentlemen’s club than book club.
Two by the door of the McKittrick Hotel (the venue of the live, interactive Shakespeare interpretation Sleep No More) tied a white ribbon around The Observer’s wrist. Another pair stood sentry outside a small cabaret, where a half-dozen more floated among the art- and publishing-heavy crowd. All wearing pink slip dresses, all blondes.
We barely had time to grab a drink when one such anonymous publicity nymph approached. As we mumbled an introduction and reached for a business card she clasped our wrist, checking under our sleeve for the white ribbon.
“Would you like to come with me?” she purred.
“Ooookay,” we replied, reaching for our champagne cocktail.
She shook her head. “Down the hatch, darling.”
The founder of Accompanied Literary Society, Ms. Geahan is well known for her interdisciplinary gatherings, so perhaps we should have known The Forgotten would not be merely a reading. Emursive (the theater company behind Sleep No More) creative director Sophie Hunter had created a supplementary “experience” based on Mr. McInerney’s story.
There were no drinks allowed in the “experience,” another hostess told the slightly panicked Mr. McInerney as she herded him into the hall.
Mr. McInerney sat down beside another, slumped over at a café table with her blonde hair in her eyes.
The only non-blonde—an elegant, elderly woman in a pillbox hat—beckoned The Observer sit next to her on a sofa.
“People tell me I look like Carol Channing,” she us. “but my name’s Theresa.”
Theresa handed us a brushed copper compact, advising us to open it in private.
The Observer picked at a stick of cotton candy, allowing ourselves to be led back to the party, where we debriefed with Mr. McInerney.
“I recognized elements of my story,” he told us, “but it was disorienting.”
“Solace” is about a twenty-something novelist and society girl who, in the days after 9/11, seeks distraction in a Greenwich Village mobster den based on Marylou’s.
The novelist meets an old woman in a pill box hat, sure, but the cotton candy stuff? That was inspired by painter Will Cotton’s cover art for the e-book, he explained. The Katy Perry collaborator and longtime friend of Mr. McInerney paints nudes lying in clouds of cotton candy and wearing candy crowns. Coincidentally, the “Solace” art was a study for a painting of his Mr. McInerney recently picked up at auction.
“It’s hanging in my kitchen,” he said.
“But what about the pill?” we asked.
“I didn’t get any pill, just this thing,” Mr. McInerney said, pulling an identical compact out of his pocket. We showed him how to open it, revealing a white capsule stamped with a heart.
Any pills in “Solace”?
“A girly barbiturate,” Mr. McInerney confessed. “All the famous girls I know are really into downs. Not to point any fingers.” Behind us, Brooke Shields—a little wobbly from a knee injury—gushed to Courtney Love that they were new neighbors.
Taking the stage for a brief Q&A, Interview editor Christopher Bollen told Mr. McInerney that his writing had inspired him to move to New York when he was young.
He’d heard that one before.
“I think I should get a tax break from the city,” Mr. McInerney said.
He went on to explain that this story was about the curiously manic coupling that he perceived in New York immediately after the towers fell.
Mr. McInerney told The Observer he was worried Coyote Ugly star Piper Perabo hadn’t known what she was getting into when she agreed to read it Sunday night.
“I said, ‘Piper, are you sure you want to read this?’ There’s some kinky stuff in there.”
But Ms. Perabo, looking girlish in a cap-sleeve yellow sundress and messy bun, gamely portrayed all three accents in the story’s threesome scene, flicking along on an iPad. The only bar chatter came from the soundtrack provided by Booktrack.