City Lights Books — 21 January

In conversation with Daniel Levin Becker

Tuesday, January 21, 2014, 7:00 P.M., City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco

Ben Marcus reads from

Leaving the Sea: Stories

from Knopf

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.

Ben Marcus is the author of Notable American Women and The Age of Wire and String. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Paris Review, Tin House, and elsewhere. The recipient of three Pushcart Prizes, a Whiting Writers Award, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he is a Professor of Creative Writing at Columbia University and lives in New York City.

Daniel Levin Becker is reviews editor of The Believer, the author of Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature (Harvard, 2012), the translator of Georges Perec’s La Boutique Obscure (Melville House, 2013), and the youngest member of the Oulipo – ouvroir de littérature potentielle, or workshop for potential literature founded in 1961 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais. He lives in San Francisco.

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