Blurb-Fest

Not long ago, in a magazine article (I wish I could remember which one), several well known authors confessed, rather glibly, that they had blurbed for a book jacket without having read the book.

Last evening, as I finished a new novel by Jonathan Dee called The Privileges, the memory of that article floated back into my consciousness.

Based upon a favorable review I’d read in The N.Y. Times, I ordered this book with some excitement, hoping for a 2010 version of Bonfire of the Vanities. When I picked it up at the library, I noticed an excerpt of a blurb by Jonathan Franzen, an author I admire, on front and a virtual Hall of Fame blurb-fest of favorite authors on the back — from the likes of Richard Ford, Tom Perotta, Elizabeth Strout, Jay McInerney and one more, which I’m guessing is Mr. Franzen’s blurb in its entirety (but whose name and large portion of blurb text was covered up by a public library sticker).

After finishing the book and rereading the blurbs, I arrived at this conclusion: Perotta, Strout, McInerney and Franzen, very likely, had read the book. They seemed to have gotten the tone and gist of the content between pages 1 through 258.

Richard Ford, however, appears to have not. His generic blurb topped the list: The Privileges is verbally brilliant, intellectually astute, and intricately knowing. It is also very funny and a great, great pleasure to read. Jonathan Dee is a wonderful writer.” (gag — how manufactured.)

You can read all the blurbs here on Amazon.com, the same blurbs that appear on the book jacket, and decide for yourself. I’d bet that Ford (whose novels and short stories I really enjoy, which makes this all the more disappointing) probably read the first chapter only — if that — or maybe just the first page, both of which are winners.

That said, I should mention that The Privileges is more than a worthy read. But don’t expect another Bonfire of the Vanities, as I foolishly did. Why should anyone try to rewrite that book?

Overall, though, I found The Privileges to be unrelentingly depressing. The further I got into the book, the more humorless it became. Spying on the obscenely excessive lives of hedge fund managers, their spoiled progeny and bored, botoxed, charity-committeed wives is not a whole lotta fun.

Still, it’s impossible not to hold in esteem a book that offers up brilliantly written passages such as these:

Pg. 1: “They are adults pretending to be adults.”

Pg. 35: “Time advanced in two ways at once: while the passage of years was profligate and mysterious, flattening their own youth from behind as insensibly as some great flaming wheel, still somehow those years were composed of days that could seem endless in themselves, that dropped capriciously like some torment of the damned.”

Pg. 246: “I’ll tell you my thoughts about the past…it’s like a safe-deposit box: getting all dressed up and going downtown and having a look in there isn’t going to change what’s in it.”

Pg. 257: “Success was a fortress at which fear constantly ate away. Whatever you might have done yesterday meant nothing; the moment you stopped to assess what you’d built, the decay set in. What you wanted most of all, from a strictly evolutionary point of view, was a short memory.”

I just wish there had been more of these passages throughout so that I, as a reader, might be permitted to soar — albeit, intermittently — above the ever-present distastefulness that his hollow-souled characters repeatedly evoked in me.

In the absence of counterbalancing humor, their over-the-top, above-it-all, immoral lifestyle — especially in this downtrodden economic climate — was hard to swallow for 258 pages, no matter how astute the writing.

Right about now, a cozy re-read of To Kill A Mockingbird might be the perfect antidote for hedge fund overdose.

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