I’m not sure I know what the mark of merit is in a first novel, any more than in a fourth or a 14th. If nothing else, though, it’s surely an opportunity to make a new friend, to lock eyes with a stranger across a crowded room. So it was, one enchanted evening in February, that I carted a hodload of literary debuts across the threshold. Somewhere within, I hoped, was the beginning of a beautiful lexical relationship, or possibly several.
Four weeks later, I’m not so sure. For one thing, most of the books were baroquely overpackaged and strenuously oversold. Publishers may have sound commercial reasons for pretending that first novels aren’t first novels — we know it’s a nervous time for the trade — but it seems cowardly of them: if we like reading, why wouldn’t we want to read something new?
Instead, more or less without exception, you get a quote from an established author on the front, a jacket design that looks markedly, sometimes actionably similar to an existing book, a blurb that strives to locate the book in some already existing microgenre or other (Family secrets! Religion! History! Nature!).