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The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets [Kindle Edition]

Kathleen Alcott
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

An extraordinary debut novel that challenges the definition of family and explores the intricate ties that bind us together

Ida grew up with Jackson and James—where there was “I” there was a “J.” She can’t recall a time when she didn’t have them around, whether in their early days camping out in the boys’ room decorated with circus scenes or later drinking on rooftops as teenagers. While the world outside saw them as neighbors and friends, to each other the three formed a family unit—two brothers and a sister—not drawn from blood, but drawn from a deep need to fill a void in their single parent households. Theirs was a relationship of communication without speaking, of understanding without judgment, of intimacy without rules and limits.

But as the three of them mature and emotions become more complex, Ida and Jackson find themselves more than just siblings. When Jackson’s somnambulism produces violent outbursts and James is hospitalized, Ida is paralyzed by the events that threaten to shatter her family and put it beyond her reach. Kathleen Alcott’s striking debut, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, is an emotional, deeply layered love story that explores the dynamics of family when it defies bloodlines and societal conventions.

Editorial Reviews


''The initial sense of beauty and sweetness between [Ida and Jackson] is tempered by uncomfortable intensity and claustrophobia . . . and what emerges as a whole is an emotional narrative that is not easy or relatable but that sparks with convincing pain and nostalgia.'' --Publishers Weekly

''The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is a powerful and emotionally resonant novel that beautifully and with rare precision explores the magnetic danger of love. Alcott has found a language for the unsayable.'' --Peter Orner, author of the New York Times Notable Book Esther Stories

''The narrative . . . expertly interweaves Ida's current reflections with her introspection about past events, some simple and innocent, others complex and appalling . . . All add dimension to each character and help establish the emotional depth of a well-told story. An accomplished debut.'' --Kirkus Reviews

''A wholly original and moving work, a nuanced consideration of the complicated ways in which we love and fail one another. A lovely and intelligent debut.'' --Emily St. John Mandel, award-winning author of The Lola Quartet

''To say I adored this book would be an understatement. I fell so hard into the wise, strange world Alcott creates for her characters that closing this book was like waking up from a dream I never wanted to end. A powerful debut from a writer I expect to see a lot more from.'' --Claire Bidwell Smith, author of The Rules of Inheritance

''Every once in a while a book comes along that you didn't know you were missing until you found it. The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is one of those books: dreamy and captivating, it nestles up inside of you, even as it tells you a devastating tale. What a wonderful debut for Kathleen Alcott.'' --Jami Attenberg, author of The Melting Season

''The Danger of Proximal Alphabets is a novel as fugue state between childhood obsessions and adult behaviors. It exists in the gaps between memory and hope, between love and obligation. Reading it, you will at once be sixteen again, drinking a beer somewhere you shouldn't, sure that the entire world lives inside your heart, beating three times as fast as it should.'' --Emma Straub, author of Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures

''Disenchanted and creative, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is a surreal and thought-provoking debut.'' --Lonely Owl Books

About the Author

KATHLEEN ALCOTT was born and raised in Northern California and now lives in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in American Short Fiction; Slice; Explosion-Proof; Rumpus Women, Vol. 1; and elsewhere, as well as on Vol. 1 Brooklyn and Rumpus.

Product Details

  • File Size: 904 KB
  • Print Length: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press; 1st edition (September 11, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007RG4NKI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #507,635 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Hypotenuse of a Triangle September 20, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
Typically, when I read a book, especially one that I plan to review, I will highlight passages throughout that I feel are important to the themes or that showcase the author's talent. In Kathleen Alcott's slim debut, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, I was tempted to highlight the entire text; and I don't necessarily mean that as a good thing. Believe me, I am not a plain prose advocate, I enjoy a poetical garnish or a clever literary device as much as the next man, but Ms. Alcott has a tendency to showcase her precious style in nearly every sentence. Read a paragraph at a time, it is palatable, often delectable, but sustained over the length of the novel, it's just too rich.

The story, narrated by Ida, the hypotenuse of a doomed love triangle, recounts the lifelong relationship between two west coast families entangled by apparently nothing more than their proximity to each other; of both habitation and loss. You see, one family has recently lost their matriarch, the other their patriarch, hence their two-way parasitic relationship. Ida, known as I, and Jackson, the prime subjects of the alphabetical caveat in the title, meet and immediately fall in love. That they happen to be toddlers when this occurs is the catalyst of their excruciating bond. James, Jackson's little brother, completes the triad, but regrettably only in a supporting role. James too often plays the patsy; he's the upright leg of the right triangle, the one to lean on, and indeed the consolation prize. Is it any wonder that James is also the most damaged of the three, preferring the blur of amphetamines to the focus of reality?

Needing a lever of sorts, Ms. Alcott employs sleep disorder to unearth the deeply wedged psychic pain of her characters.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strong prose, weak content September 11, 2012
Jackson and James are brothers. Jackson is only a year older but he seems determined to be middle-aged well before he enters his teens. A freakishly obsessive kid, Jackson memorizes all the bones in the human body "in order to understand and own how they carried him." Ida is Jackson's inseparable friend from infancy and his lover from adolescence. Jackson and James virtually become part of Ida's family; Ida's father treats them as if they were his own children. As they get older, Jackson starts having nightmares that lead to nocturnal violence; sometimes his somnambulism produces art, other times mayhem. Meanwhile James becomes a mentally ill, suicidal drug addict.

Ida and Jackson are no longer together when the novel begins. Their paths depart about halfway through Ida's recollection of her life. As she tells her story, seemingly random incidents loom large in Ida's young life: her exploration of Jackson's body when she is seven and he is eight; Ida's shameful response to the kidnapping of a neighborhood child; the meanness Ida directs to a preacher's daughter who wants to befriend her. During too much of this short novel, as Ida reflects upon her life, I found myself asking "Why is she telling me this?" Kathleen Alcott provides no clear answer. On other occasions, Ida recalls seminal occurrences from her adolescence that are just too contrived to resonate as formative events in a young life.

None of the events in this short novel are eventful; none of the drama is dramatic. The motivation for Jackson's decision to leave Ida is ludicrous. The characters are tedious, as are Ida's mutating relationships with Jackson and James and her father and an art gallery owner named Paul.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The phrase "proximal alphabets" refers to the names of three odd people whose bonds form the focus of this unique, darkly rich debut. Ida, Jackson and James are a thick-as-thieves trio who remain so throughout their early childhoods and adolescence, well into the majority of their adult lives. The destructive power of their love begins to take on a life of its own, however, becoming evident in their earliest years and morphing into a thing that becomes ever more haunting and malicious, a force that quite literally tears them apart from the inside.

This tale centers primarily on the intimate relationships of Ida as a child and a woman, beginning with a misguided, irrational girl who stumbles throughout her early years rather violently and erratically, after witnessing the death of her mother and living with the despondence of a lonely father. Ida's earliest experiences jump between her many tortuous and insensitive thoughts and acts, leading to some predictable consequences, all of which reveal her deepest inner need to escape life itself.

She invites suffering in all its forms and seems content to fill herself with desperate obsessions. The greatest of these is her lifelong obsession for a boy with whom she lived as a sibling but is not related to by blood; no person on Earth knows her better than Jackson, who is quite unfortunately mutually obsessed with her, and their path together becomes a nightmare.

Yet even while the pair shares some critical dysfunctions that stem from deep within, the two do operate on the same plane, which is why it lasts so long. Being perfectly willing to lie to themselves and one another, they remain remarkably unaware of the degree to which they've sunk, and all the damage they've done to their loved ones.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars More than a good read
Alcott weaves a tale of life and love with raw beautiful humanness that leaves haunting memories. She has a rare gift of story telling that drew me to the characters. Read more
Published 10 months ago by CAM
4.0 out of 5 stars More of a short story but worth a read
I read this book almost in one sitting as it just kept me so interested. I would describe it more of a short story than a novel. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Saucier
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but lacking something.....
I liked the characters, but there was something missing for me. I did finish it, but the story really didn't go anywhere and the character development did not go as deep as I... Read more
Published 20 months ago by carilynn68
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligently written
Kathleen Alcott is a very intelligent writer. She has a crisp tone and intersperses vivid descriptions of towns, cities and nature with her plot. Read more
Published 20 months ago by oceanboy
2.0 out of 5 stars No Identifiable Characters
While well written enough to sustain me over its short length, I never found myself identifying with the novel's characters' goings on at any time. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Michael Warren
4.0 out of 5 stars Dizzying and heady
I was mired in this and could hardly step away from it. Alcott's prose is intoxicating, dizzying; her subjects are tough, hard to love, and even more difficult to look away from. Read more
Published 24 months ago by P. T. McConnell
4.0 out of 5 stars The beauty of this book lies more in its language than its plot, but...
I'd rate this 4.5 stars...

breathless action sequences, and/or memorable characters. Other books simply dazzle you with the power and beauty of their narrative, of the... Read more
Published 24 months ago by Larry Hoffer
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Writer
The writing is quite good but the story not so much.

It's about a girl and two brothers who become a kind of family. Read more
Published on December 5, 2012 by Cheryl B. Dale
2.0 out of 5 stars "A soap opera drama"
"The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets" was written by Kathleen Alcott. Ms. Alcott's writing is centered primarily on the lives of unordinary people who project some psychosis. Read more
Published on November 28, 2012 by Max Read
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of Dangers of Proximal Alphabets
The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is a debut novel for Kathleen Alcott - but you wouldn't know it from her writing. Read more
Published on September 14, 2012 by Lydia
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More About the Author

Born and raised in Northern California, Kathleen Alcott presently resides in Brooklyn. Her work appears or is forthcoming in American Short Fiction; Slice; Vol. 1 Brooklyn; TheRumpus.Net; Explosion Proof; Rumpus Women Vol. 1, an anthology of personal essays; and elsewhere. She is currently at work on her second novel. You may visit her at or follow her on twitter @KathleenAlcott.


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