Time was, you could recommend Atonement or Lullaby and feel confident you had the title right. But what to say when your nightstand holds, say, Edgardo Vega Yunqué’s latest, No Matter How Much You Promise to Cook or Pay the Rent You Blew It Cauze Bill Bailey Ain’t Never Coming Home Again? Or Magnus Fiskesjö’s The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon, The Death of Teddy’s Bear, and the Sovereign Exception of Guantánamo? Dennis Cooper’s entry in the new anthology Pills, Chills, Thrills, and Heartache is barely longer than its bravura title: “One Night in 1979 I Did Too Much Coke and Couldn’t Sleep and Had What I Thought Was a Million-Dollar Idea to Write the Definitive Tell-All Book About Glam Rock Based on My Own Personal Experience but This Is as Far as I Got.”
There’s also a subgenre to this effusiveness, specimens for which text becomes texture; you can judge these books, at least a little, by their covers. The sleeve of David Denby’s American Sucker breaks up the first 75 words in stock-ticker fashion, and the bound proof of Karen Joy Fowler’s forthcoming The Jane Austen Book Club has a similar inside-out conceit. Then there are novels whose exterior writing doesn’t appear within: The first edition of Dave Eggers’s You Shall Know Our Velocity! actually begins on its front cover, and Jeff VanderMeer’s City of Saints & Madmen bears an ingenious jacket-only tale, in which a character, plunged into a river, sees a book drift away from him—something called City of Saints & Madmen.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 20, 2004