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Ben Marcus (1) (1967–)

Forfatter af The Flame Alphabet

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Image credit: Author Ben Marcus at the 2015 Texas Book Festival. By Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44312262

Værker af Ben Marcus

The Flame Alphabet (2012) 663 eksemplarer
The Age of Wire and String (1995) 449 eksemplarer
Notable American Women (2002) 318 eksemplarer
The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories (2004) — Redaktør — 262 eksemplarer
Leaving the sea : stories (2014) 163 eksemplarer
New American Stories (2015) 113 eksemplarer
Notes from the Fog: Stories (2018) 92 eksemplarer
Catapult: Stories (2017) — Introduktion — 66 eksemplarer
The Father Costume (2002) 39 eksemplarer
Scotlandfuturebog (2002) 8 eksemplarer
The Moors (2010) 8 eksemplarer
Malibu (Images of America) (2011) 2 eksemplarer

Associated Works

Suddenly, a Knock on the Door (2010) — Fortæller, nogle udgaver505 eksemplarer
The Best American Short Stories 2016 (2016) — Bidragyder — 258 eksemplarer
McSweeney's Issue 34 (McSweeney's Quarterly Concern) (2010) — Bidragyder — 110 eksemplarer
The Collected Stories of Diane Williams (2018) — Introduktion — 81 eksemplarer
After Yesterday's Crash: The Avant-Pop Anthology (1995) — Bidragyder — 66 eksemplarer
Granta 133: What Have We Done (2015) — Bidragyder — 58 eksemplarer
Sex and Death: Stories (2016) — Bidragyder — 42 eksemplarer
Fetish: An Anthology (1998) — Bidragyder — 25 eksemplarer
Conjunctions: 52, Betwixt the Between (2009) — Bidragyder — 19 eksemplarer
The Paris Review 167 2003 Fall (2003) — Bidragyder — 12 eksemplarer
The Quarterly, Summer 1994 (1995) — Bidragyder — 2 eksemplarer

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An epidemic that started among the forest-dwelling Jews — “genetic in nature … a problem only for certain people” — is spreading to other communities and threatening to impose an ominous silence upon the world. The culprit is the toxic language of children. This is the ingenious premise of “The Flame Alphabet,” a novel By Ben Marcus (Knopf. $25.95).

Marcus, the author of “The Age of Wire and String” and “The Father Costume,” is an inventive novelist, and “The Flame Alphabet” is no exception. Marcus brings to life, in startling details, an apocalyptic landscape (reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”), a devastated community plagued by the lethal virus of language. Children are immune to their own poisonous words that ravage the adults, shrink their faces, harden their tongues, and shrivel their skin until they wither away. What is a parent to do under such circumstances? Abandon an only child and flee to safety? Or stay put and feast “on the putrid material because our daughter made it. We gorged on it and inside us it steamed, rotted turned rank.”

The narrator is Sam, whose daughter, Esther, is an angry teenager who seems bent on destroying her father and mother, Claire. Their only partial relief occurs when Esther is away or asleep and silent. Why Ester would harbor such exaggerated rage is not explained, alas.

Forest Jews live in an anti-Semitic world. They worship in hiding. Their synagogues are small, private huts concealed under leaves and branches, in which a “Jewish hole” with all types of conductive wires broadcast sermons. Sometimes the “Jewish hole” works, often it doesn’t. There’s a listener, too, some type of a wet, slimy contraption that must be kept humid and manipulated, or it will shrivel and become inoperative—make what you may of this metaphor.

In the end, a decision is forced upon the adults. The authorities impose quarantine and an evacuation is ordered. “Health officials counsel seclusion, even from loved ones.” Children are rounded up—“captured”—Sam and Claire attempt to sneak away in order to avoid the sight of their daughter as she is being “Trapped in a net, twitching from a jolt they fired at her.”

Sam finds himself at Forsythe, a concentration-camp-like place, where Murphy or LeBov, a frightful man, reminiscent of Hitler, is attempting to discover a vaccine for the language disease. Sam, having been assigned the task of inventing a different language to replace the toxic one, comes up with creative ways to accomplish this task without exposing himself to the virus, which has spread to the written word. Will he succeed and if so will it prove to be a cure?

A plethora of questions are raised. In particular, the importance of language in our lives, its necessity or lack of, its power to elevate or destroy: “There were only so many words you could stand before you were done.” A metaphor for life, perhaps, and a measure of our respective thresholds to bear pain, not any run of the mill pain, but the most damaging kind—pain inflicted by our own children.

The story is rich with metaphors, Biblical and otherwise: the Tower of

Babel and the breakdown of language, horrors of the holocaust—“Volunteer, test subject, language martyr.” Clair is hosed down at Forsythe as if in preparation to enter a gas chamber, children are required to carry name labels on their coats; Burk is involved in horrific Mengele-like experiments on children.

This is a brilliantly rendered story of heart-break and violence, an exploration of language, the costs and rewards of silence, societal and familial conflicts, the unconditional love of parents and, above all, whether it is possible to salvage a semblance of humanity when a community is accosted by an existential threat.
… (mere)
DoraLevyMossanen | 35 andre anmeldelser | Aug 29, 2023 |
This reminds me a lot of the Codex Seraphinianus, and to some extent the wonderfully strange (and unVance-like) early Jack Vance short story The Men Return. Also, some British readers might remember a guy on TV called “Professor” Stanley Unwin: I always wished Unwin had written a book, and if he had—a sort of textbook, with diagrams—it might have come out something like this too. There are any number of ways of interpreting it; at the top of page 188 are five lines which talk about the devising of “an abstract parlance system” in an era during which the very meaning and usage of words became uncertain, and a number of newspaper book-reviewers in particular have picked up on that.
   To me what it reads even more like though is post-apocalypse, the aftermath of some surreal disaster. People, buildings, whole landscapes, the weather—all seem to have been, not destroyed, but more sort of stirred or blended together. Page 189 (“The Great Hiding Period”) talks about a time when most people retreated underground, while those who had remained at the surface “…could not discern forms, folded in agony when touched, and stayed mainly submerged to the eyes in water”.
   There is one long seventeen-page passage, similarly post-apocalyptic in feel, but in which the narrator also sounds like the subject of some sick experiment in genetics, or neuroscience, or who-knows-what. A laboratory is mentioned a number of times (“…in his lab room…”) and, just once, “Subject A” (“…This is Subject A speaking…”).
   But then again, is it a glimpse of another universe altogether, a universe similar to our own but fundamentally different too, all the way down to the laws of nature themselves? Overall perhaps each reader will see something quite different in it—like a book of those ink-blot pictures psychologists use, but all done in diagrams and prose (and some lovely prose at that).
   The Age of Wire and String is probably not recommended for anyone who prefers the conventional, the cosy, or even the usual format of plot / characters / dialogue and all the rest. It is (very tentatively) recommended for the more adventurous, or anyone bored by the plot / characters / dialogue format and who likes peering out beyond the Edge now and then to see what else might be possible.
… (mere)
justlurking | 14 andre anmeldelser | Oct 31, 2022 |
2.5 stars
I really only got this for the short story contained in this anthology called "men," by Lydia Davis. So, I didn't read all of the stories.

Thanks go to reviewers:

Luke Reynolds
For his talented ratings of the stories
Ilana Diamont
For her pertinent review

Both saving me a waste of my time. Short story collections can be so hit or miss.

"Shhh," by NoViolet Buyawayo, 3 stars
The protagonist's father is dying from AIDS. Mother of Bones ( her grandma ), consults Prophet Revelations Bitchington Mborro, who says to avenge the spirit and heal father, they need to find two fat white virgin goats to be brought up the mountain for sacrifice and that father has to be bathed in the goats' blood. In addition, Prophet Revelations Bitchington Mborro says he will need 500 U.S. dollars as payment, and if there are no U.S. dollars, euros will do.

"Special Economics," by Maureen McHugh, 4 stars
" 'a revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery,' JieLing said. It had been her father's favorite quote from chairman mao.
'... It cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained, and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act by which one class overthrows another.' "

"Another Manhattan," by Donald Antrim, 2 stars
The title refers to another drink manhattan, and also another night in Manhattan.
A couple, Jim and Kate, have a disaster of a marriage. They have a couple of friends, a married couple, Elliot and Susan, and they're all having affairs with each other's spouses. Ugh.

"Pee on Water," by Rachel B. Glaser, 3 stars
First there was a beautiful planet, and then humans crawled out of the water.
… (mere)
burritapal | 3 andre anmeldelser | Oct 23, 2022 |
Half of this novel is devoted to a parable of raising an adolescent, whose speech turns lethal when they learn sarcasm. The other half is one of those after-the-fall-of-civilization things where people are either dying from hearing language, or struggling to find a way to communicate without inducing lethality.

It doesn't work. Sure, the first part is fun, in an aren't-kids-awful sort of way, or maybe aren't -parents-pathetic. And okay, the idea is interesting. But Marcus clearly outruns his ability here, or isn't as clever as he thinks he is, or however you want to dress up the notion that the novel is utter crap by somebody who thinks that all there is to science is torturing lab animals until one of them surprises you.

This not unconvincing in a [b:Blindness|40495148|Blindness|José Saramago|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1528481068l/40495148._SY75_.jpg|3213039] way, where you think okay, I get it, some people are bad and the rest are largely unprepared for dealing with them, but I'm not buying this whole "blindness plague", nor am I convinced that is how the government would react to it. It presents itself as an allegory, and one trundles along ignoring all the mistakes and the poor reasoning, and then one gets to the end and thinks, what, so this is about a guy who's a loser, whose wife and daughter want nothing to do with him, but he doesn't realize it and loses them and so he writes a book because communication was the problem all along, see, he didn't have a language which they understood, and that's why everything fell apart. It's not an allegory or an internal journey or anything like that: it's a dull tale about a dull guy who the world pushes around and who never learns, never improves, never figures out how to get along with other people.

But enough about the story. Let's talk about the actual writing, which is pretty difficult to get though. It's not difficult because it's complicated, or because conversation isn't directly attributed to characters, or because it's stream-of-consciousness, or because you need to infer what is happening instead of trusting the text directly. It's hard to pin down, but the closest I can come is "the writer can string words together but he cannot communicate an idea". Okay, maybe it's intentional, and writing that somehow uses words but says nothing is the result of the protagonist's "research", and see it's meta and not merely bad writing. In which case well done, pal, for your next trick why don't you make a film that stabs the viewer in the eye. It's all good if you meant to do it!

A lot of the writing lands with the sound of a ball of lead hitting a concrete floor. As a parting gift, here is a selection of phrases jarring enough to interrupt the act of reading and make a note of:

"As Murphy would later say: We are in a high season of error." Nobody would say that. Ever.

"Claire's legs rose too easily in my hands, as though they'd been relieved of their bones." You know bones are actually the light part, right? And the part that makes a leg say, liftable?

"Her bottom flattened beneath me, as if relieved of its bones, and the generous skin of her back pooled onto the bed." This is how somebody who has never seen a naked human body might describe it, sure.

"Without sound, celebration and grief look nearly the same." No, they don't.

"Her hand dropped, found my coldness, squished it inside her fist." The most erotic writing since [b:Dhalgren|40963358|Dhalgren|Samuel R. Delany|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1532735651l/40963358._SY75_.jpg|873021]!

"The technicians bobbed in place like rifle targets". Which don't bob, at least none that I've ever seen or shot at.

"Claire shouted. I held my ground. Esther's allergy to ceremony was predicted by all the guides we'd half read about teenagers." Allergy, eh? She broke out in hives?

"When I approached him, a pale cylinder of liquid birthed from his mouth." Nope, I don't believe you. Nor do I believe you know what a cylinder, a mouth, or birthing is.

"Claire and I held synagogue inside a small hut in the woods that recieved radio transmissions through underground cabling." The thing about radio, you see, it is travels through the air. It is broadcast. Using radio waves, I think they call them. You're thinking of cable, so-called because it travels through a, um, cable.

"What was it they'd found, a bucket of fresh, oiled genitals?" Aside from offal being an odd thing to assume children would be interested in, what's with the oil?

"And the occasional diesel helicopter." That is not a thing. I mean, okay, some people are experimenting with them to make use of biofuel in aerial vehicles, but you wouldn't be able to look up at one and say "yup, that's a diesel helicopter".

"My face felt so heavy, I thought I could remove it, step on it until it composted." Sigh. Here we go again. Okay, #1 and # 2 plastics go in the blue bin. Vegetative matter goes in the green bin for compost. Meat is discarded or fed to animals.

"Jew hole" - this one gets tossed around a lot. Sounds like something Mitch McConnell might say if he thought the cameras weren't rolling : "You! Shut your Jew-hole!" Only here, it apparently means a hole, by Jews, for Jews. No further comment.

"Therefore the language itself was, by definition, off-limits." Wait, can I see that definition? Because the logic doesn't follow, from what you're saying.

"Bafflement is the most productive reaction". Touché.
… (mere)
mkfs | 35 andre anmeldelser | Aug 13, 2022 |



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