Contest Winners! The Brilliant Readers Who Guessed the Cover Themes

So here was the contest: guess the cover art themes to my book The Race and win a free copy of the book.

As a reminder, here’s the cover:

Race_12_28_final (1)

I also gave a brief description that had a few clues. I was looking for two things, or maybe three.

The book is about American politics, which the blue background and white stars reflect (as if we’ve zoomed in on a corner of the American flag).

It’s also about twilight, as a politician’s career heads toward darkness. The black and yellow at the bottom reminds me of a Wisconsin highway at night, your headlights lighting up the road as you head toward the horizon with an open starry sky ahead of you. (A good image for the loneliness of the campaign trail, at least for this particular candidate and his erstwhile biographer.)

And finally, there’s the small star that’s hanging on. Falling? Rising? Just hanging on.

“There’s some dignity in that little star!” I cried to my designer when I saw it. “It’s hanging on in spite of all the odds. No one knows why!”

My main character is elliptical in that way. Why hang on? Well, maybe he’s not capable of anything else…

I know, I know: I get a little carried away. You have to remember that I love like these, from a great Kafka series:


Aren’t those great? The eye motif, so perfect for Kafka. And the art is bold and full of expression, and the meaning has some playfulness and thought to it.

Kafka is a hero of mine, and while not at all trying to compare myself to such a genius, I thought some of the absurdities of The Race had some affinities with Kafka (also Svevo and Poe). If the spirit of the art above could work for the covers of Kafka, I thought it would work for mine too. Hence, the lowly little star, struggling to maintain its place in the heavens.

Okay! Did anyone guess? Indeed they did! Readers nailed this. 

Our first lucky winner was Christopher Peter, who guessed:

Is it something to do with night falling / sun setting on this man’s career / life?

Yep! That’s close enough for me, although there was still room for additional winners. Anyone have anything else?

Ok, I’ll bite. Two ideas: star on the bottom is the candidate, the stars up top are photographers; map of Wisconsin cities with Madison at the bottom.

That’s reader nstearns. Two ideas, both new to me…but both excellent! I’m awarding a prize for originality!

Still room for more, I think. MF came up with this:

I notice the one star, a “falling star” down below the title, and suppose this is our anti-hero, the politician. He’s fallen from grace–lost his family, his political party, his honor and respectability. He’s separated from the rest of these “stars”, and plummeting toward the dark, black, flat ground below. Feels like certain destruction.

And how about this interpretation–because you’ve used stars to represent the protagonist and the other characters in the story, then there is the possibility for redemption hidden in that symbol. The chance to once again be “heavenly” (and I don’t mean in the religious sense, but rather, that the character has the hope of being greater than his base, “earthly” self that is full of selfishness, delusion, and greed).

Wow! Very good. A prize for MF! In fact, I thought this was basically so good I did not think anyone would top it. Contest closed! Until…

There are nineteen stars above the title, and one star below. Nineteen, a prime number, has only two factors, itself and one. The single star, isolated from the others, is one of only two factors, but yet it is not the determinative factor. It is, in fact, both centrally important and arguably irrelevant to the (political) equation.

But let’s see how deep this goes. All the stars have five points (another prime number), but the stars above the title are all oriented in the same way, with one of their points directed straight upward. The star below is in the reverse orientation, with a point directed straight downward. The lower star is off-kilter, or askew. Reubin Askew, one of the famous names of American politics, served two full terms as governor of Florida in the 1970s. But today, the best-known former governor of Florida is Jeb Bush, George W. Bush’s brother and George H.W. Bush’s son, who also served two terms. The Bush family, though, hails from Texas, the Lone Star State.

Like a lone star, the candidate here is proud but isolated, far from the other stars. If the other stars wanted to reach him, they would have to call loudly, and probably would cry something like “Star!” Star in Latin is Stella, and is famously the cry loudly uttered by Marlon Brando (himself an isolated star) in his best-known role as Stanley Kowalski in the filmed version ofA Streetcar Named Desire. A streetcar, of course, drives only a predetermined route which it repeats endlessly; the numberless parallels to desire, and also to the “machinery” of politics, are obvious and are left as an exercise to the reader.

The book’s cover, then, symbolizes the isolation of the protagonist: a lone star, a political misfit who is forever askew, doomed never to be an important factor but trapped by his own desire to be a part of the system, and to follow a course not of his choosing and which he cannot change.

That’s reader Rain, Rain, blowing my mind. A genius entry, and certainly worthy of a free book.

Congratulations to all the winners! I will be contacting each of them to coordinate the prizes.

And now, onward and upward with a little Kafka and a great Wisconsinite…

6 thoughts on “Contest Winners! The Brilliant Readers Who Guessed the Cover Themes

  1. Hurray! I knew that 4 years of studying literature and writing an honor’s thesis on imagery in Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” would come in handy someday. Today is that day!! Thank you Jacke for the chance to use that $25K education (why so cheap? It was a state school in the early 90’s). Excited to get to know your deluded politician!


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