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Other titles in the Vintage Contemporaries Original series:
Notable American Womenby Ben Marcus
Sunday, January 19, 2014 07:30 PM
Powell's City of Books on Burnside, Portland, OR
From Ben Marcus, one of the most innovative and vital writers of his generation, comes an extraordinary collection of stories that showcases his gifts — and his range — as never before. 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 (Knopf) is the work of an utterly unique writer at the height of his powers.
"The central plot of the book concerns the actions of a woman named Jane Dark, whose cult-like female following seeks to attain perfect stillness and silence. She confines Ben's father to a hole guarded by Larry the Punisher and orders Ben to be a mating 'sire' for the Silentists and 'various women's militia that came through town.' Marcus includes historical timelines and definitions of terms throughout to help make this somewhat difficult book easier to follow, and the straight-faced weaving of his tale makes it all the more funny. For all the work a reader must put into grasping Marcus's weird world, the payoff is one that the reader will keep for a long time." Kevin Sampsell, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
Ben Marcus achieved cult status and gained the admiration of his peers with his first book, The Age of Wire and String. With Notable American Women he goes well beyond that first achievement to create something radically wonderful, a novel set in a world so fully imagined that it creates its own reality.
On a farm in Ohio, American women led by Jane Dark practice all means of behavior modification in an attempt to attain complete stillness and silence. Witnessing (and subjected to) their cultish actions is one Ben Marcus, whose father, Michael Marcus, may be buried in the back yard, and whose mother, Jane Marcus, enthusiastically condones the use of her son for (generally unsuccessful) breeding purposes, among other things. Inventing his own uses for language, the author Ben Marcus has written a harrowing, hilarious, strangely moving, altogether engrossing work of fiction that will be read and argued over for years to come.
"Marcus negotiates an esoteric though uniquely American literary terrain....Marcus reinvents the family drama....The book evokes an alternate reality revealing the dark side of our common history, an...America that exists [only] in Marcus's lyrical, abstract prose. This will be a difficult read for many, but it will surely stand the test of time as a genuinely important book." Library Journal
"Conceptual daring, deadpan humor, and dizzying forays into allegory mark Marcus's first novel....Marcus has crafted a dystopian novel in the tradition of Brave New World and 1984....Ambitious and polished, if sometimes willfully opaque, this is an intriguing debut." Publishers Weekly
"Marcus follows up his extraordinary The Age of Wire and String with something of a disappointment. The verbal wizardry is still there, but the content has grown coquettish and slightened....The author's wit can still capture perfect tens....But ennui can set in...amid these fountains of linguistic brilliance [because] the reader never really meets, gets inside of, or cares about the people. Dazzling, genius-driven — and, alas, often tedious." Kirkus Reviews
"Ben Marcus's novel is funny and touching and full of movement and sound, all of which is even more remarkable since the book itself is about stillnesses and The Silentists and Behavior Water and things you put in your mouth to keep you from speaking. Marcus investigates — with equal passion — the intricacies of a new mythology alongside the intimacies of a broken family. This is the kind of strange and beautiful book you just want to have around, to dip into again and again." Aimee Bender
"[A] stunning, strange and beautiful novel." Esquire
"Imagine The World According to Garp as rewritten by Edward Gorey....Marcus's prose can spiral up and away into sublime nonsense." Village Voice Literary Supplement
"Ben Marcus's first novel Notable American Women is a beautifully strange and compelling family allegory — Midwest mum and dad raise their son to shun all emotions — rendered in language that seems imported from a universe of deepest feeling, of intellect, of poetry, and, in the end, of majestic heart." Elle
"[A] darkly funny caricature of modern life." Time Out New York
"Ben Marcus has created an innovative and unflinching portrait of the turmoil of the human condition, providing the reader a most rare gift: something truly new. Notable American Women contains strains of Donald Antrim and Samuel Beckett but is beholden to neither; it is a brave, original book." Myla Goldberg
The acclaimed author of "The Age of Wire and String" writes an allegory of the power and impotence of modern women. On a farm in "Ohio, " a mother and father attempt to raise a boy without feelings. He tells the only story a boy with no feelings can, until the arrival of Jane Dark, whose fierce belief in Silence brings the family to a terrible crisis.
About the Author
Ben Marcus is author of a novel, Notable American Women, to be published by Vintage in March, and a book of stories, The Age of Wire and String. Artspace Books will publish his collaboration with the painter Matthew Ritchie, The Father Costume. He has published fiction in Harper's, McSweeney's, Grand Street, BOMB, Conjunctions, Fence and Tin House.
Before joining the faculty at Columbia University, where he is an assistant professor in the graduate writing program, he taught for three years at Brown. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers Award, an NEA in fiction, and two Pushcart prizes. He is the fiction editor of Fence magazine, and he has reviewed books and written essays for Time magazine, Feed, the Village Voice, and Salon.
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