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All of these covers are just like the others

AuthorsBookFictionJames JoyceF. Scott Fitzgerald

Welcome to the first book meme of 2013: the charred cover.

It happens sometimes -- a cluster of books arrive with covers that bear a resemblance to one another. During the chick-lit era, there were scads of novels with illustrations of high heels, purses, and shopping bags, often in bright shades of pink. These days, there are fewer commonalities, which makes their appearance all the more interesting.

Why, for example, do designers seem to want to torch books? That's what it looks like from three works of fiction coming out this spring.

On the left: "Wrecked" by Charlotte Roche, a novel coming in May from Black Cat/Grove Atlantic. Roche is the author of 2009's "Wetlands," a German novel packed with frank sexuality that sold more than 2 million copies internationally. "Wrecked" opens with a 20-page account of sex between Elizabeth and her husband, and the publisher describes the book this way: Elizabeth goes to great efforts to pleasure her husband in the bedroom, and also is an extremely thoughtful and caring mother to her daughter. But the perfect mother and wife act she puts on hides a painful past and a tragic rift in her psyche, which she is working through in weekly sessions with her therapist. Sex is the other tool that she uses to relax herself. Elizabeth and Georg watch porn together, and even go off on joint trips to a local brothel for threesomes with prostitutes while their daughter is at school. But is their relationship unhealthy, even tragic, or just a very modern marriage?

In the center: "A Burnt Child" by Stig Dagerman -- it's another May novel, this one being published by the University of Minnesota Press. Dagerman was one of the most prominent authors in Sweden during the 1940s, writing both fiction and journalism. This book -- "his most personal, poignant and shocking novel" -- is described by the publisher: Set in a working-class neighborhood in Stockholm, the story revolves around a young man named Bengt who falls into deep, private turmoil with the unexpected death of his mother. As he struggles to cope with her loss, his despair slowly transforms to rage when he discovers his father had a mistress. But as Bengt swears revenge on behalf of his mother's memory, he also finds himself drawn into a fevered and conflicted relationship with this woman -- a turn that causes him to question his previous faith in morality, virtue and fidelity.

At right: "The Dinner" by Herman Koch. This buzzed-about novel is coming Feb. 12 from Hogarth, an imprint of Crown. Koch is a Dutch novelist; "The Dinner" is his biggest success, having already been published in 25 countries. The publisher's description: It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse — the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.

    Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
     Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

What do the three books have in common? Well, they're all works in translation. And they all appear to be about the fabric of normal society being torn apart. If that seems a bit too literal, it does appear to be the theme heard by all of the cover designers.

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