Ben Marcus Talks About The Flame Alphabet, a Novel Where Language Literally Kills

In Ben Marcus' new novel, The Flame Alphabet, language has become toxic. People weaken when spoken to and, later, even when they read. They lose mass, energy, and willpower. The symptoms are at their very worst when children (who are unaffected by the plague) speak to adults.

As the fever spreads, the novel's narrator, Samuel, leaves his family in pursuit of a cure. But his efforts are complicated: people have had to abandon communicating with one another, and an antagonist known as Murphy is introducing what may be misinformation about the disease.

The Flame Alphabet is a refreshing, energizing cloudburst of experimental fiction. Its narrative weaves several ideas and subplots into a taut strain of new mythology that addresses both the necessity and dangers of human communication. Marcus writes with clarity and economy, managing a vivid portrait of a world in which vagueness has settled over everything like a damp blanket and created a Twilight Zone-like atmosphere of dread and uncertainty.

Marcus appears at City Lights Books on Tuesday (Jan. 31) to discuss the book. He spoke to us by phone a few days ago.

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