The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus

49%

7 Critic Reviews

This is bare-bones science fiction, a picture of a world we can't entirely understand — not because it's so alien but because it is so sketchily rendered.
-NPR

Synopsis

In The Flame Alphabet, the most maniacally gifted writer of our generation delivers a work of heartbreak and horror, a novel about how far we will go, and the sorrows we will endure, in order to protect our families.
 
A terrible epidemic has struck the country and the sound of children’s speech has become lethal. Radio transmissions from strange sources indicate that people are going into hiding. All Sam and Claire need to do is look around the neighborhood: In the park, parents wither beneath the powerful screams of their children. At night, suburban side streets become routes of shameful escape for fathers trying to get outside the radius of affliction.
 
With Claire nearing collapse, it seems their only means of survival is to flee from their daughter, Esther, who laughs at her parents’ sickness, unaware that in just a few years she, too, will be susceptible to the language toxicity. But Sam and Claire find it isn’t so easy to leave the daughter they still love, even as they waste away from her malevolent speech. On the eve of their departure, Claire mysteriously disappears, and Sam, determined to find a cure for this new toxic language, presses on alone into a world beyond recognition.
 
The Flame Alphabet invites the question: What is left of civilization when we lose the ability to communicate with those we love? Both morally engaged and wickedly entertaining, a gripping page-turner as strange as it is moving, this intellectual horror story ensures Ben Marcus’s position in the first rank of American novelists.
 

About Ben Marcus

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BEN MARCUS is the author of three books of fiction: Notable American Women, The Father Costume, and The Age of Wire and String, and he is the editor of The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories. His stories have appeared in Harper's Magazine, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, McSweeney's, Tin House, and Conjunctions. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, and awards from the Creative Capital Foundation and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in New York City and Maine. www.benmarcus.com
 
Published January 17, 2012 by Vintage. 306 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction
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Critic reviews for The Flame Alphabet
All: 7 | Positive: 3 | Negative: 4

NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by J. Robert Lennon on Jan 20 2012

Unfortunately, Marcus’s borrowings from conventional narrative create an expectation of structural coherence that the book then declines to deliver.

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Guardian

Excellent
Reviewed by Nicholas Lezard on Apr 30 2013

What I found fascinating about this book, after its remarkable premise...was my own reaction to it. I can put it no better than to say that this book got to me...

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Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by James Lasdun on Jun 07 2012

About halfway through, the book's esoteric and populist aims begin to pull hard in opposite directions and the enterprise starts to fray.

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NPR

Below average
Reviewed by Jason Diamond on Jan 31 2012

This is bare-bones science fiction, a picture of a world we can't entirely understand — not because it's so alien but because it is so sketchily rendered.

Read Full Review of The Flame Alphabet | See more reviews from NPR

National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Tony Burgess on Mar 02 2012

There is so much here that works, though, and the writing is startling and prodigious. Dr. Seuss is here. Samuel Beckett is here. J.G. Ballard is here.

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LA Times

Below average
Reviewed by Chris Barton on Feb 24 2012

...its lack of a readily approachable core in its characters sometimes leaves the book feeling cold, and it struggles to build momentum.

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National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Tony Burgess on Mar 02 2012

The list is long and rich. This obvious stuff, however, is a red herring, much like Sam’s futile obsession with cure, theme, allusion, character and story is the smallwork that lets us be here, that lets us keep reading. It is an ambitious, impressive book.

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Reader Rating for The Flame Alphabet
48%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 365 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


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