Shalom Auslander desperately tried to avoid cutting his own trailer for his first novel, Hope: A Tragedy, which is odd: Not only does he have the comic timing to pull it off — the essayist’s bad-Jew cri de ceour, Foreskin’s Lament, was a horribly depressing comic romp — he’s also a creative director at McCann Erickson. When Auslander finally agreed, his publisher at Riverhead, Geoff Kloske, gave him only two directives: “It needs to be under 90 seconds, and you better not make it too dark.” (Hope: A Tragedy is kind of about the lighter side of collective Holocaust guilt.) The result is three trailers, each about two and a half minutes long, wherein he asks Ira Glass, Sarah Vowell, and John Hodgman whether, in the event of another Holocaust, they would hide his family in their attic. Auslander himself is shown only in silhouette, pacing through his office, or playing in the rainy woods with his wife and children. He broke the trailer down for Vulture and gave us an exclusive first look at the videos.
This attic thing was your idea?
Yes. I am a Holocaust survivor. I don’t mean personally. I mean I have survived people who talked about the Holocaust a lot as a kid. So it is always on my mind. And Geoff called me the eighth or ninth time about the promo, and just out of curiosity I asked him if he would hide me and my family if there was another Holocaust. He said no. I was like, “What are you, an anti-Semite?” And he goes, "No, I wouldn’t hide you. I would hide other Jews, but you are a pain in the ass so fuck you and get to work." So I decided, this is not a bad idea for the promo.
Did you try to call a lot of people with this?
Well, I e-mailed a lot more people than I called. I e-mailed Sherman Alexie, because I thought as a Native American he might have an interesting perspective on genocide. Once I explained what the project was, he, perhaps wisely, stopped answering my e-mails. I tried Jonathan Safran Foer, [Christopher] Hitchens, Bernard-Henri Lévy — did not hear back from them. Gary Shteyngart I spoke to, but we never could hook up. I think he was busy with his own book promo.
Yes, his book trailers are funny. Have you seen them?
I’ve only seen a few that Geoff did. I think [book trailers] are in the early stages. I don’t think anyone knows quite what the fuck is going on. It started out being just somebody reading, and then it became a guy off-camera reading to pictures and I just thought, Well, why does it have to be any of those things? I think right now, there are no rules.
Does any of your advertising experience help?
I think if anything it would ruin it. The actual training of being in advertising would lead you to do something like what James Patterson does, where he is sitting with his family and kids and dog and talking to the camera about how much he wants you to read his book, and it is just weird and creepy and there is a coupon involved and a flashing website.
Did you see that there was a billboard in Times Square for Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot, with the author looking like the Marlboro Man in a billowing vest?
Is it a piss-take?
I don’t think so. He’s under a blurb that reads, “Swoon-Worthy.”
Holy fuck. That is exactly what I’m saying. There is no need for that. It is 2011 and they are doing Marlboro Man for books. That is really unfair to books. For me, books are the most dangerous platform there is. There is much more dangerous shit in your average independent bookstore than you are ever going to see in TV or film, but those give the impression of being alive and exciting and books are the ones that are dusty. You could do posters for Candide that would get banned. It is pretty frustrating.
Why were you playing with your children in the pouring rain during your trailers?
There was this stretch of summer where it just rained for 40 days and 40 nights, and I just ran out of time [to shoot it]. So I just said, Fuck it, let’s just do it now. I thought, This makes even more sense.
Well, the book is about the futility of hope, in a way. And the danger of hope. At a certain point you go, the sun is not coming out anymore. If I could get that way with life in general, I would be much happier, and that is kind of what the book is about.