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Leaving the Sea: Storiesby Ben Marcus
In Leaving the Sea, the unassuming dean practitioner of avant-garde language salad courts — but never quite weds — more conventional narrative. One watches these new, homier stories go about their business and wonders why Marcus seemingly struggled so long to avoid this type of writing. His new mode connects with startling truths so often it's like watching an expert trapper hunt a hapless species to extinction.
Synopses & Reviews
From one of the most innovative and vital writers of his generation, an extraordinary collection of stories that showcases his gifts — and his range — as never before.
In the hilarious, lacerating “I Can Say Many Nice Things,” a washed-up writer toying with infidelity leads a creative writing workshop on board a cruise ship. In the dystopian “Rollingwood,” a divorced father struggles to take care of his ill infant, as his ex-wife and colleagues try to render him irrelevant. In “Watching Mysteries with My Mother,” a son meditates on his mother’s mortality, hoping to stave off her death for as long as he sits by her side. And in the title story, told in a single breathtaking sentence, we watch as the narrator’s marriage and his sanity unravel, drawing him to the brink of suicide.
As the collection progresses, we move from more traditional narratives into the experimental work that has made Ben Marcus a groundbreaking master of the short form. In these otherworldly landscapes, characters resort to extreme survival strategies to navigate the terrors of adulthood, one opting to live in a lightless cave and another methodically setting out to recover total childhood innocence; an automaton discovers love and has to reinvent language to accommodate it; filial loyalty is seen as a dangerous weakness that must be drilled away; and the distance from a cubicle to the office coffee cart is refigured as an existential wasteland, requiring heroic effort.
In these piercing, brilliantly observed investigations into human vulnerability and failure, it is often the most absurd and alien predicaments that capture the deepest truths. Surreal and tender, terrifying and life-affirming, Leaving the Sea is the work of an utterly unique writer at the height of his powers.
"The second collection from Marcus (The Flame Alphabet) is a peculiar, funny, original analysis of the human psyche and modern language. Split into six parts, the volume fluctuates between traditional narrative (the opener, 'What Have You Done?,' acts as a 'stranger in a strange land' tale: a man reluctantly visits his family, only to learn his present self cannot erase memories of his younger, wilder past) and more experimental fare (the title story, for example, unspools in one breathless, exhilarating sentence). Communication is important to the author, and throughout, characters employ unusual linguistic skills, renaming common tasks (sex becomes 'lust applications') and speaking about common phrases as if they are alien ('These changes in temperatures were called moods and they had interesting foreign names, but I no longer recall them,' the narrator in 'First Love' muses). The protagonists of most of the stories are men, and often their conflicts are flared by worried, overactive imaginations. 'The Moors' plots the increasingly elaborate digressions of a man as he trails a coworker to an office coffee machine, spiraling a mundane experience into a psychological death march, while 'Watching Mysteries with My Mother' and 'The Loyalty Protocol' parse the responsibilities of caring for aging parents. A very strong collection. Agent: Denise Shannon, Denise Shannon Literary Agency." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Exhilarating....A peculiar, funny, original analysis of the human psyche and modern language....A very strong collection.” Publishers Weekly
“Mind-bending....Boundary-pushing....Fifteen tales of modern anxiety that display Marcus’ range....Marcus has mastered a bitterly comic tone and a level of psychological insight that make the characters more than repositories of middle-age rage....At once smart, claustrophobic, and comic.” Kirkus
“Marcus’s stories are nothing if not intense. They are opaque, elliptical. They go on, Beckett-like. Each finds its own form on its own terms. He’s always looking for a new way to tell an old story. As he has written elsewhere, stories ‘seek personal residence within a reader.’ They should take over the reader’s imagination, as these do.” Shelf Awareness
“Brilliant, unsettling....Unmatched in his imagining of the human form....Marcus articulates every grade of the uncanny, with masterful attention to the twisted vortices of language....Hilarious and ingenious.” Booklist (starred review)
From one of the most innovative and important writers of his generation, a brilliant collection of stories that showcase his gifts — and his range — as never before.
In the dystopian "Rollingwood," a divorced father struggles to hold on to his job while taking care of his ill infant son. In the hilarious "I Can Say Many Nice Things," a writer toying with infidelity teaches a brutal creative writing workshop on a cruise ship. In "Watching Mysteries with My Mother," a man spends time with his aging mother and meditates on mortality. And in the title story, told in a single breathless sentence, we watch as the narrator's marriage and his sanity unravel.
Surreal and tender, terrifying and life-affirming, Leaving the Sea brings us an utterly unique writer at the height of his powers.
About the Author
Ben Marcus is the author of four books of fiction: Notable American Women, The Father Costume, The Age of Wire and String, and The Flame Alphabet, and he is the editor of The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories. His stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in Harper's, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, McSweeney's, The Believer, The New York Times, Salon, and Time. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in fiction, and three Pushcart Prizes.
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