NY Jewish books: The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus

Posted on January 17, 2012


A language epidemic erupts among Jewish families; children’s speech makes their parents deathly ill. Soon it spreads to the rest of the population. This dark fantasy is the premise of Jewish New Yorker Ben Marcus‘s new novel, The Flame Alphabet published today by Knopf. In my New York Journal of Books review I write,

The Flame Alphabet book coverNew York Journal of Books

“Ben Marcus was already known as a daring, experimental writer’s writer on the strength of his three previous books of fiction. The good news for the general reading public is that his fourth book, The Flame Alphabet, is his most accessible to date, and its comparative clarity and linearity in no way diminishes its power, inventiveness, and originality. The quality of the writing also compensates for the book’s thin character development. Instead, Mr. Marcus deploys his potent prose to tell a tale about a world in which all language becomes lethal.”

One of Mr. Marcus’ inventions is a new form of Judaism in which couples worship in forest hideouts on Thursdays instead of Friday nights and Saturdays. Like the epidemic itself, this aspect of the novel requires a suspesion of disbelief. The ominous nature of the fictional events lends the narrative a sense of gravitas that Mr. Marcus’ prose style is well equiped to express. While the book has all the necessary elements to make it a cult classic, a book this well written deserves the widest possible audience.