[Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds, a shamefully overhyped book (C4 review here), has just come out in paperback and continues to wail for attention: the book sports 11 full pages of laudatory front matter, including snippets from 27 reviews and several dozen blurbtastically purple and inane write-ups from novelists.
Many of these blurbs confuse C4 contributor Dave Duhr, so for the next couple of weeks he will be writing open letters to a few of these blurbers and we’ll run them in this space. Because we’re confused, too.
The first is addressed to Alice Sebold (The Lovely Bones), whose Yellow Birds blurb reads, “This is a novel I’ve been waiting for. The Yellow Birds is born from experience and rendered with compassion and intelligence. All of us owe Kevin Powers our heartfelt gratitude.”]
Dear Alice Sebold:
I write to you today in the hopes that you’ll clarify for me the first line of your Yellow Birds blurb. When you said, “This is a novel I’ve been waiting for,” did you mean that when you wrote the blurb, you still had not received the manuscript? How long had you been waiting? Sometimes when I order a book the shipping takes nearly two weeks! So I understand your aggravation. But I wonder if it was really necessary to take a public potshot at Mr. Powers and/or his publicist for their tardiness in getting a copy to you.
It’s strange, too, that you would then write the rest of the blurb before receiving and reading the book. Unless you wrote the second and third lines days later, after the book arrived and after (I hope, though I’m not certain) reading it in its entirety? In which case—and this is solely for future reference, of course—I would have recommended expressing the passage of time in some manner. For example: “This is a novel I’ve been waiting for. (Dum dee dum dee dum.) Mail came today, no bird book. (Dum dee dum dee dum.) No mail on Saturdays now, WTF? (Dum dee dum dee dum.) Oh wow it came today! (Dum dee dum dee dum dee dum dee dum dee dum.) I have now read a few pages of The Yellow Birds and can confidently say that so far it seems born from experience and rendered with compassion and intelligence,” yada.
Better yet, talk about the delay after the fact instead: “This was a novel I waited for, and then it came. As it turns out, The Yellow Birds is born from experience,” yada.
Or perhaps you’re just confused by the whole definite vs. indefinite article thing, and what you really meant to write was “This is *the* novel I’ve been waiting for.” As in, you’ve been waiting quite a long time for a novel as [glowing adjective] as The Yellow Birds to come along. (If you do struggle with definite and indefinite articles, here is the a good primer.)
If that is the case, then I am truly sorry that until Mr. Powers came along no writer had met your expectations. Many pre-Powers authors tried to write novels “born from experience and rendered with compassion and intelligence.” Before I read your blurb, I thought that many, many of those writers had succeeded! lol. Now I know better. Which means that I can finally justify clearing my bookshelf of all but The Yellow Birds: The five copies of the galley the publisher sent, the three copies of the hardcover the publisher sent, and the (so far only) one paperback the publisher sent. (“This is a paperback I’ve been waiting for.” lol, jk.)
Mostly, though, I am writing to thank you. To thank you heartfeltly for informing me that “All of us owe Kevin Powers our heartfelt gratitude.”
Gosh, what a load off! My whole life I’ve been building up this stockpile of gratitude, day by day by day (and almost all of it heartfelt). But! I’ve had nobody to give it to. Why? Because I’ve had nobody to tell me who to give it to! I’ve had nobody to speak on my behalf.
Until you came along. And you’ll be glad to know (unless he already told you?) that I sent Mr. Powers all all all of my heartfelt gratitude. (“This is a gratitude I’ve been waiting for,” he said, two days before it arrived, jk, lol.)
The problem I’m having is that this all happened months ago, when I first read your blurb. Since then I’ve built up some new gratitude, because as soon as you send gratitude to a person, more gratitude rushes in to fill the hole in the heart’s gratitude chamber. (Unless I’m doing it wrong?)
So I’m sure I heartfeltly owe this new gratitude to someone, but who?
Now that I’m writing this, I wonder if perhaps you are that someone? For alerting me to the massive shortcomings of pre- (and probably post-) Powers literature, and for telling me to whom I owed that first store of gratitude. But how can I send this new gratitude to you without first being told, by you, that I owe it to you?
P.S. A friend at Little, Brown just sent me a copy of your original blurb: “This is a novel I’ve been waiting over two weeks for, and I’m really getting impatient. A wait is killing me. I should take the break. Maybe I’ll reread A Lovely Bones. It’s one of a best books ever written, if not a best! You should read it, too! Bye bye.”
Now that is a blurb rendered with compassion and intelligence!