Anyone in the book business will tell you that jacket blurbs are critical bits of marketing, and anyone who stares at those hype nuggets long enough will tell you that the planet must be overrun by writers of sparkling intelligence, poisonous wit, and/or harrowing beauty. There are more references to ”heartbreak” on the shelves of Barnes & Noble than in all the honky-tonk jukeboxes in Texas.
Since ”The Corrections” appeared last fall, many authors in the high-art literary tradition covet Jonathan Franzen (right) endorsements. And Franzen’s obliged, making urgent appeals to the jacket scanner: On the back of ”Big If”, he gushes, ”Mark Costello stakes out territory which [is] vital to read about immediately.” Advance copies of Jeffrey Eugenides’ ”Middlesex” and Adam Haslett’s ”You Are Not a Stranger Here” suggest that ”wonderful” is surfacing as his adjective of choice.
But the emerging master of the form is ”Motherless Brooklyn” author Jonathan Lethem. If you read one blurb this summer, it’ll probably be by him – declaring a volume ”splendid,” deploying tripartite superlatives (Kelly Link is ”the exact best and strangest and funniest short story writer on earth that you have never heard of”; Jonathan Carroll’s ”The Wooden Sea” is ”one of his funniest, strangest, and most melancholy offerings”), or rejoicing in the idea that good books eat people (Samuel R.Delany’s reissued ”Dhalgren” ”has swallowed astonished readers alive”). Lethem seems to whip up at least a blurb a month – this despite being stuck inside Mark Z. Danielewski’s ”House of Leaves” ”reduced in size like Vincent Price in ‘The Fly.”’
Perhaps – given such gothic conceits and the allover outbreak of broken hearts – blurbists are best off embracing simplicity, emulating Philip Roth’s praise for ”Interesting Women”: ”Andrea Lee is the real thing. There is nothing else to say.” And a gold star to whomever can one-up Rick Moody’s pitch for ”A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”: ”This book does not need a blurb.”