Alfred A. Knopf, January 7, 2014
Vintage Books, October 7, 2014
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.
Praise for Ben Marcus’s Leaving the Sea
“Marcus has become a giant in the world of innovative, demanding prose. . . . Leaving the Sea is darkly funny, psychologically provocative, and playful.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Utterly compelling. . . As the book progresses Marcus tears up the rulebook completely. And it works beautifully . . . . Outstanding.” —NPR
“Marcus’s whimsical and weird stories sometimes have the matter-of-fact, fairy-tale quality of Donald Barthelme’s work, and sometimes have the renaming, redefining tactics of Kurt Vonnegut’s.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Brilliant, astute . . . Filled with Marcus’s lovely, rhythmic sentences and wise insights about family, self, and masculinity.”—Boston Globe
“Marcus’s re-imaginings of the conditions and lives of human beings in ways both radically different than other writers and uncomfortably close to some of our secret thoughts wakes the reader up, jolts the brain, and makes us see ourselves anew. . . . If you haven’t yet read Marcus, Leaving the Sea is a magnificent, and magnificently discomfiting, place to start.”—The Oregonian
“A bounty of Ben Marcus’s surreal, heartrending stories, linguistic marvels all, gathers together in Leaving the Sea.”—Vanity Fair
“The protagonists in Marcus’s new collection of disturbing and excruciatingly funny short stories are socially inappropriate, alienated from their lovers and relatives, anxious, bitter, mortified, lonely . . . The collection’s later stories are more experimental in style and subject matter, but they, too, address themes of isolation and existential inquietude.”—The New Yorker
“The best stories in Leaving the Sea . . . seem powered by the electrostatic charge that results whenever the texture of the familiar is abraded by some alien, highly resistant material . . . As we make our way through this collection, we may feel as if we’re moving gradually through a dark chronology of America’s imminent social and political unraveling . . . Marcus is nothing less than fully engaged in an artistic enterprise that the surrealists would have authorized: injecting into our recognizable world just enough weirdness to make readers second-guess their senses.” —Washington Post
“A wide-ranging meditation on parenthood, relationships, language, and the end of the world . . . Regardless of idiom, Marcus tackles deep-held, universal terrors and anxieties in his singular way.” —Time Out New York
“Although the year is young, it’s not a stretch to say that Ben Marcus’s new collection, Leaving the Sea, may well be among the finest books of short fiction released in 2014.”—The Rumpus“Powerful and poignant . . . Exceptionally intelligent . . . A collection of short stories of extraordinary technical agility and control . . . that showcases work from all stages of Marcus’s writing career . . . The language in all of these stories is acute and exacting; details of observation are haunting and revelatory.” —The National“There is a loquacious energy and inventiveness at work and at play in these stories that carries things along even when we travel to what one character admits is a place ‘deeply outside any likely reality.’” —The Toronto Star
“Unnerving . . . Brilliant . . . Exhilarating . . . Marcus’s characters will live on after the final page is turned and the book is back on the shelf . . . There’s no denying the man’s talent. The stories in Leaving the Sea are the perfect showcase for his range and innovation. They are thoughtful, challenging, even frustrating, but the rewards are there for those willing to put in the effort.” —Lit Reactor
“It’s in moments of sharp discomfort that Marcus thrives; these are, above all, tales about characters on the edge . . . It’s a recurring theme in Leaving the Sea that violently destructive forces lurk both inside and out.”—The Daily Beast, “Hot Reads”
“When Ben Marcus issues a collection of stories, the literary world quakes. This latest collection shows why the imaginative Marcus’s uncompromising style has earned him such respect.”—Flavorwire
“Ben Marcus is one of my favorite writers on the planet, and I am in awe of his latest collection. Marcus’s fiction is unrivaled in its strangeness, beauty, and transformative power. A Marcus story is clinically proven to quadruple the vision of your inner eye, enlarge your heart ten sizes, and give you lucid dreams. In Leaving the Sea, Ben Marcus has collected fifteen wise, extraordinarily moving, funny and frightening tales. They spelunk into deep cave systems of love and treachery, dynamite new horizons of storytelling possibility. Nobody has the stylistic and imaginative range of Marcus. Anyone fortunate enough to read Leaving the Sea will feel as though she is making a leap into uncharted zones of insight and emotion.”
“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)
“Exhilarating . . . A peculiar, funny, original analysis of the human psyche and modern language . . . A very strong collection.”
“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.”