Gawker's 'Status Galley' Book Club: Joshua Ferris' The Unnamed
Publishers release "advance reader copies" or "galleys" of books for the New York Literary Elite to have before the masses and Oprah ruin them for you. Being spotted with some merits certain kinds of "status"...that we're about to ruin.
Yes, it's that time again: former Gawker Weekend editor and New York Observer reporter Leon Neyfakh has named his 2009 summer "status galleys," wherein he calls around the publishing industry to see what the hot new galleys to be seen with are. If you already know what a status galley is, skip the next three paragraphs down to the good stuff. And if you don't, Leon explains it best:
Basically the term refers to an advance reader's copy of a highly anticipated book that hasn't been published yet. If you have one it means you're special: either a proud member of the exclusive club known as the publishing industry, a distinguished literary critic, a friend of the author's, or in some cases even an intern at a cultural magazine.
He got a good example of when this can come in handy from media closure victim Tom Meaney, former New York Sun literary editor: if you're seen on the subway with a status galley by a pretty, literary lady who wants to read it, or who is reading it, romance could be in the air, as the exclusive club that is having a status galley makes a great conversational jumpoff-point. And if not romance, at least some highminded conversation! Same with parties in the New York Literati scene, except you're far less likely to impress so much as simply get nods of approval or awesome scowls of LitNerd jealousy.
Among the books Neyfakh names as this summer's status galleys: Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs, Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City, Philip Roth's The Humbling (which This Recording blogger, n+1ian, and occasional Observer book critic Molly Young actually held a copy of), Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs, Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice (which, sadly, comes out in three weeks), Richard Powers' Generosity: An Enhancement, Mary Karr's memoir Lit, and mystery editor Otto Penzler's anthology of vampire stories.
One of them is also The Unnamed, by Joshua Ferris, which is the leadoff book for our Status Galley Book Club. It's scheduled for release on January 18, 2010.
Industry Hype: Ferris' debut novel, 2007's Then We Came To The End was a critical hit, a National Book Award finalist, and a topic of much discussion on this site! It was translated into 24 languages, which I guess, also, means something. Will his sophomore effort be ATLiens-good or Forever-good? The "people" want to know, but are somewhat reluctant, as this is his second novel, after all. His New Yorker stories between books have been solid, though. Industry Hype: B+.
Movie Potential: Very real! Again: lots of people in lots of different languages are reading the book, and they don't just live in New York. Also, it's already been optioned. Scott Rudin and Miramax picked up the rights to the unfinished manuscript of the book back in March. Woah! They must've felt like they missed the boat after HBO picked up the rights to Then We Came To The End; he's currently adapting it for them. Movie Potential: A.
Status Symbol: Well, as Leon indicated in his article, "Reagan Arthur Books handed out more than a thousand copies during Book Expo in May." Where did I find it? Sitting quietly, not making much fuss, on a book table in Williamsburg. I asked the street merchant where he acquired the book, and he told me in no uncertain terms that sold it to him. Yes, but, I asked him, did they work in publishing? He didn't think so. Not good. Status Symbol: D+, if only because it still doesn't come out for another six months.
First Sentence: "It was the cruelest winter." C-, because, aren't they all cruel?
The F.U.C.K.E.R. (Fully Unqualified Consciously Knifing-worthy Early Review): You can highlight the following text if you want to know some of the essential plot points of the book. We won't give too much away - never the ending! - but you will get a lot of it. Ready? A successful lawyer has a condition that makes him unable to control his legs, which send him on long walks away from his home or outside of the city. He has no control over when these episodes happen, and they get progressively worse: the walks get longer and thus, more dangerous. After unsuccessfully seeking out every kind of treatment and diagnosis available, he loses his job, his sanity, and becomes distanced from his family. Soon, he decides to embrace his condition, and sets out alone to deal with it. Ferris pulls none of the narrative trickery he did with his last book, which was written almost entirely in a Greek Chorus-esque first-person-plural. Though the light, charming touch Ferris applied to what was often compared to a literary, highbrow version of The Office still affects the book's language, the tone is far, far darker, and the undertones far more masculine. Ferris' characters, while not entirely unpredictable, aren't heavy-handed in persona either; essentially, if you found yourself weepy at the end of his last book, this one's not going to be any different. The book also takes a slightly philosophical bend at times, points of which got a little convoluted in their own dogma, however interesting they were. Finally, the second half off the book veers wildly from the first, which is going to be seriously divisive for book critics at large. But I thought it was really, really great. F.U.C.K.E.R. Grade: A-.
Final Status Galley Grade: Joshua Ferris is probably going to become really famous with people who don't care about "hot" authors between this book, the HBO adaptation of Then We Came To The End, and the project of this coming together (the two leads are juicy roles). The book is great! But it gets downgraded for its mainstream appeal (makes it less cool to the publishing crowd), availability (having it doesn't denote much exclusivity), and the lack of a proven track record beyond his debut novel to please the New York Publishing Elite. Which, in this club, is all that really matters.
Gawker Status Galley Book Club grade: B-.
Do you have a status galley you'd like to review, or send us to review? Shoot us an email here.
Further reading: Ladies and Germs, Your Summer '09 Status Galleys! [New York Observer]