Flame On, Alphabet! Kill! Kill! (The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus)

Reviewers and interviewers are billing Ben Marcus’ new novel The Flame Alphabet (Knopf) as a departure for the author, whose tricky, experimental fiction has been praised for “[making] postmodernism look like the work of preschoolers.” Which isn’t to say the book is exactly conventional, though unlike, say, Marcus’ strangely baroque story collection The Age of Wire and String, it does offer the through-line of a plot:  Specifically, an American family tries to endure an incipient apocalypse brought about by the fatal speech—yes, speech—of children.  Marcus’ interests and style are often philosophical—he wants to examine the ways in which “all language,” as Beckett said, “is an excess of language”—and so The Flame Alphabet could be accused of being too flat and cerebral but for the fact that Marcus does such a thorough job grounding these Big Ideas in the genuine and affecting drama of a family coming apart as their attempts to express their anguish and love literally start to kill.

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