Literary Hub is pleased to reveal the cover for Justin Torres’s new novel (!!) Blackouts, which will be published by FSG this October. Here’s a bit about the book from the publisher:
Out in the desert in a place called the Palace, a young man tends to a dying soul, someone he once knew briefly, but who has haunted the edges of his life. Juan Gay—playful raconteur, child lost and found and lost, guardian of the institutionalized–has a project to pass along to this new narrator. It is inspired by a true artifact of a book, Sex Variants: A Study in Homosexual Patterns, which contains stories collected in the early twentieth century from queer subjects by a queer researcher, Jan Gay, whose groundbreaking work was then co-opted by a committee, her name buried. As Juan waits for his end, he and the narrator trade stories—moments of joy and oblivion—and resurrect lost loves, lives, mothers, fathers, minor heroes. The past is with us, beside us, ahead of us; what are we to create from its gaps and erasures?
Inspired by Kiss of the Spider Woman, Pedro Páramo, Voodoo Macbeth, the book at its own center and the woman who created it, oral histories, and many more texts, images, and influences, Justin Torres’s Blackouts is a work of fiction that sees through the inventions of history and narrative. An extraordinary work of creative imagination, it insists that we look long and steady at the world we have inherited and the world we have made—a world full of ghostly shadows and flashing moments of truth.
And here’s the cover, which was designed by Na Kim:
“Explaining the concept behind the cover feels impossible and almost deranged because it’s an amalgamation of so many things!” Kim told Literary Hub.
Most of the ideas that appear on the cover came from the author. He was immensely helpful with providing guidance for what this cover should look like. He asked for something understated and restrained, perhaps something that resembles an old cloth-bound book you’d find in a second-hand store. He even gave the suggestion of having the title be embossed in gold. The goal for me was to take his ideas, and the classic elements of an “old book,” and present them in a more contemporary way while also presenting the concepts and feelings of the book.
Throughout the novel, the idea of “blacking out” presents itself in multiple ways:
•the concept of blacking out text within the pages of a book.
•the act of blacking out—losing time and losing memory.
•waiting for imminent death
•even the setting of the book lends itself to the title Blackouts: a lot of the book takes palce in a small room in a former asylum, usually at night where the characters converse with their eyes closed.
All this being said, it felt more interesting to try and embody the many variations of darkness throughout the book rather than following the traditional route of visualizing redacted text.
The large black mass impeding the majority of the cover takes the shape of one of the torn pages from the Sex Variants Study (a book heavily featured throughout the novel). The application of black on black also nods to the stories within the stories, and the idea of shadows still existing in the dark. The peeking hyena is a character pulled from an illustrated children’s book within the novel.
Like I said, this cover is a real hodgepodge of so many ideas and images, but hopefully it came together to create something cohesive and beautiful.
And here’s what Torres had to say:
When FSG sent a short questionnaire asking me to describe my ideal cover, I wrote: “Entirely black, clothbound or canvas or whatever, no dust jacket. Just the title, Blackouts, stamped in gold. And my name. Old fashioned, like the kind of book you’d find secondhand.” That might sound like a non-cover cover, but the impetus for my novel was an eighty-something-year-old medical survey called, Sex Variants: A Study in Homosexual Patterns. A real life study. A book I did indeed find secondhand, no dust jacket, the black canvas cover fraying at the corners, the spine stamped with gold titling. I thought it would be nice to replicate the lovely black and gold simplicity of Sex Variants, to nod at the old book within the younger. (In the novel, the characters find the pages of the study have been almost entirely, painstakingly, blacked out).
I fully expected the designer to ignore the request; in fact, I worried I was being too literal, or too narrow, or too unhelpful, or even contrarian. At that point, I didn’t know who the designer would be. I didn’t know I would be lucky enough to get Na Kim, who seemed to understand my vision, and found a way exceed that vision. I love the design. The original concept had no dust-jacket. The large glossy black rectangular shape you see (which is, brilliantly, the shape of a page torn from a book—a recurring image in the novel itself) was stamped directly onto the cover. I hoped to keep it that way, but for various production-related reasons, it was decided the book would indeed have a dust jacket. (Still, Na Kim has incorporated a little surprise for those who tend to peel off, or peek under, dust jackets.) Along the way there were a couple other minor changes as well: the nature of the creature creeping out from behind that inky black expanse changed, it is now a hyena, whose queer bark figures as a crucial metaphor in the book. And the lettering of “a novel” has been corrupted, or perverted, or twisted, which is fitting as well, because if the book I wrote is indeed a novel, it’s not a straightforward one. I find it to be an intelligent, moody cover, and I feel very appreciative and much in debt to Na Kim’s talents.
Blackouts will be published by FSG on October 10. You can preorder it here.