In The Flame Alphabet, language is toxic to everyone but children. For adults this means no speaking, no reading, no writing, no listening - at least not without severe allergic reaction, depression or crippling pain. In telling the story, Sam, a man whose family has come apart, is literally dying a slow death. It’s poisoning him to write the words that we read. The story is set in our time, but that time has been just slightly broken open to accommodate a world where children have all of the power and where adults must shield themselves from language in any way that they can. Marcus’s narrative touches on a wide range of interests and issues, including a speculative conception of allergy science, rogue tactics of self-improvement, the trauma that surrounds aphasia, confidence games between excessively powerful children, the future of writing as a technology and cruelty within families. The novel is part satire and lament, dystopian fantasy and family tragedy.
©2012 Ben Marcus (P)2012 Recorded Books, LLC
“Marcus is a writer of prodigious talent . . . Formally inventive, dark and dryly comic . . . [The Flame Alphabet] reads like a dream.” (J. Robert Lennon, The New York Times Book Review)
“Language kills in Marcus’s audacious new work of fiction, a richly allusive look at a world transformed by a new form of illness . . . Biblical in its Old Testament sense of wrath, Marcus’s novel twists America’s quotidian existence into something recognizable yet wholly alien to our experience.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review and Pick of the Week)
“Ben Marcus is the rarest kind of writer: a necessary one. It's become impossible to imagine the literary world—the world itself—without his daring, mind-bending and heartbreaking writing.” (Jonathan Safran Foer)
For a book detailing the slow and macabre proliferation of disease and dissolution of language, this reads like a methodical and ominously gorgeous work of prose. It wasn't without its flaws, but still earned its 5 stars (maybe 4.5) through its descriptions, analyses of familial relationships and religion, and execution of a great concept without going Hollywood Thriller. I keep turning parts of it over in my head and continue to draw out more about culture, spirituality, and of course language itself.
I thought the premise was interesting. The early chapters were promising, but as the story progresses it all sinks into a sludge of alienation that would probably even bum Kafka out. Lots of dreary descriptions of the sick getting sicker but not dying too fast and civilization crumbling but not quite coming to an end. The protagonist struggles to make sense of it all, but gets nowhere as he and his family literally and figuratively fall apart. Nearly all the characters stop speaking to each other, per the major plot point of the novel, so the reader is mostly left with the protagonist's/narrator's lengthy ruminations about existing in a world in which language - written or spoken - is deadly poison (irony?). In the end, I didn't care about anyone or anything in the novel. I simply felt, alienated. Was that Marcus's goal?
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
There are a few moments of gallows humor in the novel that Andy Paris handles well. At these moments, the text gives him an opportunity to use his voice to express the narrator's bitter frustration. This element might be the only thing that buoyed me through the story.
I was disappointed that such a promising concept could be rendered as such a dud.
If you are depressed when you start reading this book, it will only make you more depressed.
I don't mean that this story was confusing, just for the sake of confusion. It's rather the novel kept me in a constant state of confusion about how I felt about the narrator, the mother, the daughter, and the situation itself. I spent most of the book wondering how the narrator was going to survive and make it through the spread of the language virus, while also hoping that perhaps he'd die and I'd finally be able to hear the daughter or the mother's side of things. Given the theme of the book, I think this response is the exact one that Marcus intended for us.
I've read other reviews that didn't like the beauty of the language. I did. And, I enjoyed the dark, sick humor that would occur at the most unexpected of places.
Overall, I'm glad that I read this book and it makes me want to know more of Marcus and his work.
I like the idea behind this apocalyptic story, but I think the novel is a bit misconstructed, taking too long after backing up to get back to where it starts, and then there is a very strange element that just doesn't work involving a network of tunnels and secret Jewish/Hebrew underground. Trim that out, and concentrate on the ideas beginning to develop in the 2nd half of the story and it could have been great. I kept thinking of Saramago's Blindness, which is excellent though a bit long in the middle, and this could have been very much like that, exploring the consequences of the situation more, but as is, i have to say near miss.
Not worth a credit knowing what I know now. I have almost 50 books in my library and this is in the worst 5. This book attracted me with the synopsis because it was an interesting idea (might be enjoyable to someone who studies languages and communication), but the entire story is problematic and missing some essential ingredients to make an enjoyable read. 1) The main theme is pain from verbal communication. Do you realize what that does? It eliminates the primary foundation for meaningful relationships. Do you what a story without meaningful relationships is? That's right, boring! The main character goes 11 long hours without any meaningful connection with any other character in the book! That results in 2) You don't care about the characters. The lack of meaningful relationships between characters means you don't care what happens to any of them, thus there is no tense climax that you are so anticipating that you remove all distractions so you can't miss! 3) there is no solution or closure at the end of the book. 4) There is no antagonist that must be overcome. Please avoid this book.
This book is about a Jewish family and how they deal with their intelligent, logic based, sullen teenage daughter. The disease is almost secondary. I wish I had known that before purchasing.
I couldn't get through this one. I didn't make it past 2 hours. Maybe I will give it another shot on paper so I can get through it faster. I felt it was a waste to listen. Nothing really happened in the first 2 hours. Maybe other listeners got far in enough to get to the story, I didn't have the patience.
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