Blood on the Stacks: The Great Bleeder Cover Controversy





Much has been said—in print, on talk shows, at the White House—about the use of blood on the cover of my short-story collection, The Bleeder. It has even been suggested that I chose blood—over, say, strawberry jam—to titillate the curiosity of people whose lust for violence is so intense that it guides their book-buying decisions.

I’d like to address a few of these accusations now:

First, the idea that I used blood imagery as a way of enticing readers fond of murder and mayhem is ridiculous. Yes, it is true that the American people love entertainment that features spurting blood and gratuitous torture, but if I wanted to create a cover image that truly reflects our great nation’s appetite for violence, I would have bathed the thing in red and thrown in a few chunks of flesh and brain matter, to let people know that the killing was done with a shotgun, at close range. As it is, all I did was use a few drops of blood—a level of restraint that several critics in the blood-lust community have deemed “insufficient.”

Second, some readers have expressed concern that the blood on the cover is mine. It is not. As I have said many times, I am dedicated to my work, but not that dedicated. The blood on the cover is actually that of my art director, who volunteered her vein juice because she claimed it was an all-American shade of red (as opposed to my blood, which has a strange, greenish tint to it). My gratitude goes out to her, because we used a lot more than a few drops of her blood. I am a perfectionist, so I insisted that she photograph several hundred blood-drop dispersion patterns to make sure we got the best possible one. Not to worry, though: The paramedics said she could have lost another pint or two of blood and still survived without much brain damage.

Third, as I have explained many times, the blood on the cover is a metaphor. Inevitably, however, some wiseass with a master’s degree stands up at my readings and asks, “A metaphor for what?”

Let’s clear that up once and for all. It is, of course, a metaphor for—what else?—blood! I mean, how literal do I have to get? It’s not like I put the New York Times crossword puzzle on the cover to mystify people. No, I put blood on the cover because the story after which the collection is based has some blood in it, and I thought—in the British accent that my thoughts sometimes adopt—what a bloody marvelous idea! Simply put, using drops of blood as a metaphor for drops of blood is the sort of layered imagery that makes The Bleeder such a highly regarded work of literary genius.

Fourth, it should be obvious to everyone that if blood were not on the cover, I would have to call the collection something else. It wouldn’t make much sense to call a book The Bleeder if there were a bunch of butterflies flitting around on cover, now would it? And if there were a horse or a monkey or a sailboat on the cover, calling the book The Bleeder would have just confused people. They might have thought something bad happened on that sailboat, or that the monkey was psychotic and murdered a team of scientists. A few drops of blood gets the message across in the most straight-forward way possible—someone in the book loses a few drops of blood. No big deal. Nothing a wad of Kleenex can’t handle. Nothing to get worked up about. What kind of sick, twisted mind immediately assumes that blood equals murder? Statistically speaking, most blood loss has nothing to do with murder. Car accidents, power-tool mishaps, surgical procedures, cut feet, odd slips of a kitchen knife—these account for most of the blood loss in this country.

The fact is, American literature has been mired in the muck of sensationalism for far too long. It my sincere hope that the level of discourse over the cover image of my next book, The Shitter, is a bit more sophisticated.