• Review
By – February 26, 2024

Blank is a nov­el revolv­ing around the theme that the pub­lish­ing indus­try is a rot­ten mess. Read­ers may not be aware of the process that must unfold before a book reach­es their hands, but in Blank, the pro­tag­o­nist, Pip­pa, takes her audi­ence through the whole affair — the agents, edi­tors, pub­li­cists, inter­views, and book talks. All of the tra­di­tion­al hoops through which an author has to jump are made even more chal­leng­ing in our time by social media, which con­trols the buzz around art and cul­ture. Fac­ing writer’s block, Pip­pa decides in des­per­a­tion to pub­lish a blank book — a book with absolute­ly no con­tent, just emp­ty pages. As Pippa’s moth­er notes, it’s the ulti­mate exam­ple of​“The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

Then Pippa’s pub­lish­er agrees to sub­mit Blank to Oper­a­tion Best­seller — a pub­lish­ing pro­gram that manip­u­lates the lit­er­ary mar­ket so that a par­tic­u­lar book will sell, no mat­ter its worth, and no mat­ter how many tru­ly worth­while books go unpub­lished or unpro­mot­ed in the process. Through this devel­op­ment, Owens asks us to con­sid­er how dif­fer­ent lit­er­ary suc­cess and lit­er­ary mer­it have become in today’s world.

Blank suc­ceeds in part because Owens pays care­ful atten­tion to ten­sion and pac­ing. The draft of Pippa’s book is due in a week, and each sec­tion of Owens’s nov­el counts down anoth­er day. When she’s not ago­niz­ing over her book, Pip­pa chauf­feurs her chil­dren around Los Ange­les and indulges in her true pas­sion: real estate and open hous­es, which she attends and then describes on her high­ly pop­u­lar but unmon­e­tized Insta­gram account. Pip­pa is rais­ing her chil­dren Jew­ish, and it’s through her son’s bar mitz­vah tutor that that she begins to see the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a hap­py ending. 

Owens has cre­at­ed a cin­e­mat­ic sto­ry sure to appeal to the mod­ern read­er — all the more evi­dence that she has her fin­ger on the pulse of con­tem­po­rary publishing.

Beth Dwoskin is a retired librar­i­an with exper­tise in Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture and Jew­ish folk music.

Discussion Questions