Sunday, December 23, 2012

"Prosperous Friends": Questioning the Flap Copy

I read one or two good reviews of "Prosperous Friends" (Grove, 2012), by Christine Schutt, and always being interested in "discovering" new (to me) writers, I read the novel. Here I want to focus on the front-flap copy, which I found misleading, and the back-flap blurbs, which I found both misleading and overwrought. I write about this because misleading flap copy is common, and perhaps I should just expect it and allow for it, but this particular verbiage seemed to me particularly disconnected from the actual book. The front flap describes the book as a contrast between two married couples: a young, doomed-to-fail Ned and Isabel, and an older Clive and Dinah "who seem to prosper in love." The description of the first marriage is correct, but that of the second is only accurate in that Dinah gives up much of herself in order to build her life around Clive and tolerate his multiple infidelities. The men in the two couples are both unfaithful and unreliable, so it is hard to celebrate even the older, sort-of-happy-at-odd-moments couple. It is true that all marriages, even the best ones, are imperfect; realistically, all couples make their own compromises and their own adjustments in order to stay together. But I dislike seeing women making most of the compromises. So, getting back to the flap copy: to present the two couples as a simple opposition between one that works and one that doesn't just glides over what Dinah has to accept to make her marriage work. As for the overwrought back-flap blurbs: It is true that many blurbs on many books are overwrought. But these -- from excellent writers, several of whom I have read and admire -- seem unusually over the top. A selection among several blurbs: Kate Walbert says that "no one writes like Christine Schutt"; Gary Lutz states that "It is no longer a secret that Chrstine Schutt is the finest writer among us, and Prosperous Friends is her finest work yet...a classic"; Sam Lipsyte claims that Schutt writes "some of the most original and rewarding prose I've ever read." The one blurb that I thought was accurate and not overstated was by Stewart O'Nan (whose own wonderful work I have written about several times here): "With her elusive, suggestive prose, Christine Schutt examines the mystery of one couple's dissolution [with] spare delicacy...." And I must say that some of the writing is beautiful, especially the last few pages.

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