FORMAT FOLLIES, PT 3

So you’re a venerable, legendary author who’s written over 50 novels, winner of the National Book Award, O. Henry Award and Prix Femina. Do you think by now you would have gathered a little respect in the old book cover design field? If you’re Joyce Carol Oates, and your book is My Sister, My Love, then no.

Oates, whose fiction is always interesting, provoking and often dark, has been seemingly branded by the powers-that-design as a minion to the realm of that awful umbrella term, “Women’s Fiction”, with most of the covers of her backlist still available in Australia filled with images of bare feet, empty corridors with flapping lace curtains and sad girls looking through wrought-iron fences (why not just recolour a picture of a couple embracing during WWII and be done with it?).

My Sister My Love is inspired in no small part by the horrific and still-unsolved JonBenét Ramsey murder case. The story is told through the diary entries of 19 year-old Skyler Rampike, who reflects on the dissolution of his family (and his own sanity) following the murder of this sister—a preturnaturally pretty ice-skating prodigy—ten years previous. The book is unsettling, brilliant, postmodern and not the work of someone who deserves this book cover:

First format, released November 2008:

Now this, the C-Format paperback edition, wasn’t that bad, but I have a hell of a time selling it to people. Firstly, because anyone who picks this up expecting a Jodi Picoult-esque moral-dilemma-you’ll-never-have-to-think-about-but-can-enjoy-seeing-others-going-through will be sorely disappointed, and I feel obliged to warn them of this (“What do you mean it’s got footnotes? It’s a fiction book!”). Secondly, those readers who would actually enjoy this (Infinite Jest-quoting hipsters such as myself) were put off by the cover whenever I recommended it to them (“Yeah, I like footnotes, but what is it, true crime?”).

So, as you can imagine, I had big hopes that the B-format, released here in June. And then I saw it…

Oh dear God. There are no words. I will not be ordering this book in for the shop. There is just no point. Shame, HarperCollins, shame.

For interests’ sake, here is the cover of the American edition:

Now THAT’S BETTER. Artwork, by the way, by Martin Mull, great painter, and everyone’s favourite private detective.

*Tomorrow’s Format Folly: Too Many Covers Spoil the Broth?*

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