What happens to a book when it’s published posthumously, when there’s not even a finished manuscript, much less an author to send out like a shill wearing a Greek wedding dress? Who knows? What we do know: if they generate sales, publishers will publish them, regardless of their worth.
A new wave of posthumous books by iconic authors is stirring debate over how publishers should handle fragmentary literary remains. Works by Vladimir Nabokov, William Styron, Graham Greene, Carl Jung and Kurt Vonnegut will hit bookstores this fall. Ralph Ellison and the late thriller writer Donald E. Westlake have posthumous novels due out in 2010.
The posthumous works may generate as much controversy as enthusiasm. Many are incomplete or appear in multiple drafts, raising thorny questions about author intent. Others, dug up from the archives of authors’ early and less accomplished work, could be branded disappointing footnotes to otherwise lustrous literary legacies. An unfinished murder mystery by Graham Greene, which is being serialized in the literary magazine, “The Strand,” was slammed on the Los Angeles Times’s literary blog, Jacket Copy, as “a far cry” from Greene’s later works, such as “The Power and the Glory.”
While some attribute the surge in posthumous publications to macabre coincidence, others say publishers are more aggressively seeking works by famous dead authors because they have established audiencesâ€”an irresistible prospect for a struggling industry.