A zomb-ish book from Ben Marcus? (Or just zomb-ish marketing from Knopf?)


The above trailer for Ben Marcus’s new novel– The Flame Alphabet— was featured on BoingBoing this morning.  It comes out this month from Knopf.

I’d read an earlier description of it in Publisher’s Weekly that limned it thusly:

Sam and Claire are a normal Jewish couple with a sullen teenage daughter, Esther. But Esther and other Jewish children begin to speak a toxic form of language, potentially deadly to adults: with “the Esther toxicity… in high flower,” Sam watches in horror as the disease spreads to children of other religions, quarantine zones are imposed, and Claire sickens to the point of death. Heeding the advice of enigmatic prophet LeBov, Sam manufactures his own homemade defenses against his daughter’s speech. But he and Claire are soon forced to abandon Esther in order to save themselves.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Oh, excuse me.

Anyhow, it’s not a zombie story.  But also, it’s obviously not trying to be.  Ben Marcus is not a popular horror writer.  That’s not what he’s going for here (or, indeed, has ever gone for).   It looks like he’s taken a zombie outbreak story, removed the pesky zombies, and replaced them with… things that make English Ph.D. candidates go “Squeeeeeee!”  Things like performative speech, and societal alienation, and narrative forces that compel us to redefine notions of family.

Which is, you know, fine.  That’s Marcus’s right, of course.  You can write whatever you want.

Yet the images in the above book trailer are straight-up zombie contagion.  Abandoned houses.  Protective suits.  Virus dangers.  (At :35, the screen seems to show zombies held at bay by barred windows whilst workers inside wear hazmat suits.)  If I had seen this trailer alone, I’d be expecting something designed to excite devotees of Robert Kirkman…not Stanley Fish.

Hmmmmmmmmm.

Disclosure:  Coincidentally, Ben Marcus was one of my professors from 2000-2002 at the Columbia University MFA program.  The single class I took with him was pleasant.  He spent a lot of time criticizing Robert James Waller, which was fun to listen to.

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3 thoughts on “A zomb-ish book from Ben Marcus? (Or just zomb-ish marketing from Knopf?)”

  1. This reminds me a lot of PONTYPOOL CHANGES EVERYTHING, a novel from 2001 with a similar language-based apocalypse, except the victims really do zombie out.

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