“Two radical projects of reappraisal emerge as you make your way through the nearly 800 pages of Ben Marcus’s anthology of New American Stories.”
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It started with bedtime. A coldness. A formality.
Martin and Rachel tucked the boy in, as was their habit, then stooped to kiss him good night.
“Please don’t do that,” he said, turning to face the wall.
They took it as teasing, flopped onto his bed to nuzzle and tickle him.
The boy turned rigid, endured the cuddle, then barked out at them, “I really don’t like that!”
“Jonah?” Martin said, sitting up.
“I don’t want your help at bedtime anymore,” he said. “I’m not a baby. You have Lester. Go cuddle with him.”
“Sweetheart,” Rachel said. “We’re not helping you. We’re just saying good night. You like kisses, right? Don’t you like kisses and cuddles? You big silly.”
Jonah hid under the blankets. A classic pout. Except that he wasn’t a pouter, he wasn’t a hider. He was a reserved boy who generally took a scientific interest in the tantrums and emotional extravagances of other children, marvelling at them as though they were some strange form of street theatre.
“Carl Hirsch didn’t do holiday parties. At least, not correctly. All the so-called people, wind streaming from their faces. Fleshy machines spewing pollution, fucking up the environment. If he squinted, the celebrating bodies of his co-workers very nearly blistered into molecules, shining with color. Too often the whole of it—people, places, and things—looked to scatter. Everyone on the verge of turning to soup. So what if there was no precedent for a full-scale human melt, bodies reduced to liquid pouring from a window? You could still worry about it. Sometimes you had to.”
“Ben Marcus is one of the most stunningly original and profoundly unsettling writers of his generation. His subtle kinks of syntax, his daring choices of individual words and combinations of them, which seem a quarter tone out but somehow wholly right, the reiterated concerns – a pervading sense of guilt, the surrealism of sexuality, dangerous but necessary generational relationships – do not make for easy reading. That is not to say that he is a difficult writer; merely that he deals with strong emotional material in a unique and experimental style. Reading Marcus is liable to induce a kind of literary vertigo.”
“Marcus’s early writings strike me as extraordinary feats of transposition; their goal appears to be to create a linguistic simulacrum of a new medium or unknown dimension of being, in which familiar words and scenarios take on radically different kinds of implication, of weight or lightness, as if the laws of gravity had suddenly changed.”
“Ben Marcus achieved the startling visions of his first story collection, “The Age of Wire and String,” and the novels “Notable American Women” and “The Flame Alphabet” largely by placing the reader in strange and unfamiliar worlds that turned out to be our world after all. The stories of his new collection, “Leaving the Sea,” still contain peculiar linguistic and perceptual tics, but he has added to his arsenal narratives that are less relentlessly unfamiliar, less rigorously dis-enchanted, populated by characters full of longing and visible regret…”
“The stories in Leaving the Sea range a great deal in terms of style, from a fairly realistic portrayal of intergenerational domestic conflict to a ribbon of metafiction consisting of a single run-on-and-on sentence. Underlying all the diversity, however, is a consistent set of anxieties surrounding the alienated figure of the contemporary middle-aged American male. What Ben Marcus offers is a sort of literary shock treatment for these shut-ins.”