Notable American Women

by Ben Marcus

Notable American Women

Vintage Books, 2002

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.


“Ben Marcus has been accused of redesigning the ordinary sentence, of emptying words of their meaning and injecting them with new, of treating grave matters (such as family and humankind in general) with farcical disrespect, and of blowing away traditional narrative structures with a diabolical wind. And all this may be true. But for those who would describe this work as fantastic, surreal, or anti-real, I can only say that this is Ohio exactly as I remember it. Jane Dark was my fourth grade teacher.” —Robert Coover

“Notable American Women is a weird nougat of a book that suggests Coetzee, Kafka, Beckett, Barthelme, O’Brien, Orwell, Paley, Borges—and none of them exactly. Finally you just have to chew it for its own private juice.” —Padgett Powell

“Ben Marcus’s Notable American Women is a radical performance in American fiction. It is too literary for the novel as it is now practiced and consumed, and too perverse for other plausible designations. In order to pioneer the Marcus life-project the writer provides a ferocious handbook which, followed to the letter, launches a permanent revolution of nothingness. A family of unprecedented personae—the Marcuses, aided on the distaff side by Jane Dark, her listeners and Silentists—are brought forth to insure the evolution of “a new category.” The writer “fathers&#