Near the start of The Flame Alphabet,
we find the novel’s narrator fretting over the falseness of narrative.
The protagonist, Sam, is part put-upon husband, part picaresque
everyman. Most of all, though, he’s a storyteller; one of those
“reliable narrators” of old-fashioned literary lore. Keen to set the
scene, Sam’s on the lookout for novelistic “motifs,” and maybe even “a
fine bit of foreshadowing.” But reality falls far short of such bookish
ambitions. “What is it called when the landscape mirrors the condition
of the poor fucks who live in it?” he wonders. “Whatever it is, it was
not in effect.” This calls to mind Samuel Beckett’s aside, mid-description: ‘to hell with all this fucking scenery.’ What’s
at stake in both cases is more than merely a rhetorical reflection on
the rift between life and literature. With Ben Marcus,
as with Beckett, such disruptions are signs of literature itself being
stretched and tensed, pressed to express the process of a writer testing
his limits (more...)
David Winters on Ben Marcus' The Flame Alphabet.