I visited the website for Jeanne Safer’s literary agent. Safer writes insightful, useful books on difficult subjects, how to deal with a toxic sibling, what there is to celebrate at the death of a difficult parent, when not to forgive. I admire her writing on these taboo subjects and figured her agent might be a good place to start my search for an agent for the difficult book I am wrestling with. The agency has a query page that reads, in pertinent part:
We love discovering new talent and welcome your query.
If your project is in keeping with the kinds of books we take on, we want to hear from you. In non-fiction, we represent narrative, popular science, memoir, history, psychology, business, biography, food, and travel.
So far, so good. But they don’t want me to send them my svelte 1,700 word evocation of the book I’m writing, they have a better idea.
Synopsis (up to two paragraphs). Briefly pitch your project, indicating what makes it unique and compelling. Imagine writing the jacket copy for your book.
I wrote one the other day, 319 words, two paragraphs (the second actually two paragraphs) pretty good, but not really the jacket copy they were looking for. I will try again now.
The Book of Irv is a son’s memoir of his father’s life, a life that ended with terrible regrets. It is a meditation on anger and the power of reconciliation, even when it arrives tragically late. Irv Widaen triumphed over a childhood of grinding poverty during the Great Depression to live the American Dream. He was an idealist with a deep commitment to bending the moral arc of history toward justice. A specialist in Human Relations, he brought warring gang leaders together. A man of great empathy and a quick, irreverent wit, he quickly won people over. His own children referred to him as the Dreaded Unit, or the D.U..
The D.U. saw the world as a battlefield. He fought his children to the death over dinner every night. Almost his entire family was massacred back in Europe during World War Two; there were other unspeakable, inescapable terrors in his earlier life. Heartbroken and desperate, he viewed life as a zero sum game. He did harm to both of his children by constantly denying their feelings, while imbuing them with the highest ideals about fairness, identification with the oppressed and kindness to animals. The Book of Irv interweaves his personal story with the turbulent history of his times. His pessimistic insistence that people cannot fundamentally change is set against his realization, as he was dying, that he should have had more insight. At the heart of the book is the dialogue the difficult father and troubled son should have been having all along. The D.U.’s skeleton smiles in his grave to finally have this chance to be heard.