1.07.2017

The Hucksters by Frederic Wakeman




Found The Hucksters by Frederic Wakeman last month at the Bookman in Orange.   The dust jacket design caught my eye.  Though the cover designer's signature got torn off at the bottom right corner as you can see below, a friend was able to quickly identify it as one of the covers from the impressive portfolio of Arthur Hawkins, Jr., one of the finest cover artists, come to find out, of the 1930s and 1940s.  Simply had to have The Hucksters, solely because of its book cover, even though I knew next to nothing about it.  I'm afraid I did judge this book by its cover — and bought it.  The intriguing biography of the author on the back cover helped sell the book for me, too:
"Until his first book, SHORE LEAVE, was published, Frederic Wakeman belonged to that large army of professional writers who never see their names in print.  They are the reporters, the writers of advertising and of radio scripts.  In New York you see them leave their advertising agency offices on Park or Madison Avenue—and after a hard day, these anonymous but not inarticulate word-weighers will confess, nostalgically, that someday "I'll quit and write a book".  They never quit and few of them ever have, or take the time to write a book.  Except for the war, in all probability Wakeman would have conformed to the pattern of the New York advertising man, stringing together words for ads and radio shows.  He joined the Navy, was in for a year, spending a brief stint on Pacific duty and wound up in a naval hospital.  SHORE LEAVE was the natural result of a writer with time on his hands plying his trade ... He is thirty-five years old, with a wife and two children." 
Book covers have always sold books, and, more often than not, a great cover in my experience has indeed been indicative of a great book, no matter what Grandma used to say, offering a book cover as an object lesson about people, warning us grandkids not to judge them by appearances, because like these pages, "like these deckle-edged pages here, see," she said, and, fanning open the pages of the book she held, added, "feel these pages, you feel that there, how uneven they are? Some people are like that too — deckled, or inconsistent, like you're never quite sure for certain, if what they say is how they gonna do.  Are they strong of character? are they tough? well how are you gonna know until you open them up?  See how this book's spine is weak when I open it, how some of the pages — the 'leaves' is what they called them in the store — see how they're about to come loose and fall?  Well, shoot, how you gonna know if a person is damaged goods or not, that their spine is all broken up like this, like this book here, see, or that they're spineless to begin with, the way my first husband was, your Grampa Paul, if all you are is looking at, is their outward beauty, their appearance alone?"

I wish I knew if my imagined grandmother that I never knew ever sold a first edition of The Huckster by Frederic Wakeman, like the one above that I bought at the Bookman.  Plenty of readers bought it when it was published in 1946, just after the War, though the novel has become somewhat obscure today.  My copy is still sturdy of spine, has deckled edges, an interesting biography of the author:  A former "ad man," perhaps a huckster himself; that is, an expert exploiter of surface appeal, an inveterate salesman, an innovator of the campaign blitz.  Hucksters struck New York with billboards rather than bombs, launching jargon and jingle rockets into the air upon unsuspecting shoppers, essentially turning profitable tricks with these easily molded, proletariat minds.  But I'm likely exaggerating the evils of ad men, aren't I?  Or am I?  Keep in mind the brilliant cover artist's, Arthur Hawkins, Jr's., opinion of them, and note the sharp architectural angles he used, his choice of colors so suggestive of the era's non-democratic regimes, and his not-so-subtle use of the subliminal, perhaps parodying the Freudian lengths advertisers went to.


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