They spend a whole book describing it. They build a history of the eternal search for it. The reader is immersed in the lives of its detectives. He reads about each journey ending in failure after failure after failure but still believes that the author will live up to a certain promise.
He is finally taken right up to the door. He is even allowed to touch it, to turn the knob that leads to the meaning of life, the purpose of everything, and maybe even god himself. But the door is locked, leads nowhere, or vanishes completely.
The reader finishes the book disappointed. He calls the book anti-climactic, like a fool, because he wasn’t paying attention. There was never any deception pulled or promise made. The writer kept telling him that this was a book of dead ends. But the reader hates it because he’s been reading the wrong book.
Or even worse he loves it because he still believes it to be that same book promising the revelation of a cosmic secret. He reads it again and again looking for all the hidden clues that will finally open the door this time around. He convinces himself that the book is a cipher and all he needs is the right key to decode it.
But the true reader knows from the beginning that the author is only a man like himself who is befuddled by the same eternal questions. He knows that life and death are the only doors and nothing lies beyond either end. The true reader knows the purpose is to acquiesce to living in the dead ends. He knows that the epic novels of Melville, Kafka, and DeLillo attempt an ordering of reality only so they can confront our mortal inability to ever understand the chaos.