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The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets Paperback – September 11, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press; 1st edition (September 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590515293
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590515297
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 5.5 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #678,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"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, author of The Lola Quartet

“A beautiful story of love and heartbreak...[a] joyously good first novel.” —Wall Street Journal

"Heartbreaking, honest, and wholly engrossing, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets dredges the depth of love that divides us, unites us, and folds in on itself until we're nearly crushed under the sweet ache of its weight." —Bookslut

“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 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. At one point Ida worries that she has inherited her father's capacity of never forgetting. I, for one, am very grateful for her memory." —Peter Orner, author of Love and Shame and Love

"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

"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

“The initial sense of beauty and sweetness between the two [Ida and Jackson, (siblings by marriage)] 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 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

"...she is a skilled storyteller, and her understanding of just how dangerous it can be to love someone worms its way through almost every sentence." —The Boston Globe

"This book beautifully...portrays the intensity of young love and the trouble its volatility can cause. When Alcott digs deep into Ida's psychology, describing her obsession with Jackson and her loss of innocence, her prose really hits home." —Real Simple

"The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is a powerful and fascinating debut novel that explores the complexities of love." —Largehearted Boy

"The Danger of Proximal Alphabets reminds us that untangling the knots of our lives can sometimes be more threatening than cutting them off completely...[Alcott] shows us how deeply pain can be tied to love, and she takes us on a quest that highlights the mythic proportions of both in our lives. Alcott’s ability, in the end, to intelligently parse out the positive aspects of a painful childhood and still celebrate the comfort they give us makes Proximal Alphabets a worthy coming-of-age novel." —Tottenville Review

"An excellent work of cerebral, lifelike fiction; it illustrates how fractured people use each other to mend themselves into full people, and how even bonds that strong can break." —Timestage Embassy

"Alcott’s novel weaves a web of betrayal, intimacy, and pain, questioning the lengths to which we will go in our attempts to save others and ourselves. Abstracted yet utterly believable, the novel comments with grace on the dangers of triangulation and, as Alcott so eloquently puts it, “proximal alphabets.” The debut is a haunting tale of what it should and should not mean to be a family." —The Brooklyn Rail

"A dark story, one that the reader may want to look away from at times, about those we love and those we take advantage of and those we just can't live without." —Bohemian

"[The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets] is poetically written and easily readable, a credit to a talented writer. The content is certainly visceral, gritty and blunt, but there are also deep insights and many interesting questions raised. This book on the unbreakable nature of destructive forms of love will surprise and captivate many readers, particularly those who enjoy dark fiction and gritty modern literature." —Book Reporter

"As a debut novel this shows immense promise, and as a singular story it is one that is likely to linger." —The Creosote Journal

"Alcott’s novel is a lyrical treat. She is a true literary talent and skilled beyond her years. I eagerly look forward to reading more of her work." —The Masters Review

"An exploration of the redemptive and destructive qualities of art, how we communicate without words and the arbitrary definition of “family,” The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is an overlooked gem." —The Coast

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.

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 Kathleenalcott.com or follow her on twitter @KathleenAlcott.

Customer Reviews

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It is poetically written and easily readable, a credit to a talented writer.
Bookreporter
Though flawed and perhaps a bit trite, this first effort from Katherine Alcott is promising.
Michael Jones
I don't need authors to spell things out for me but I do like things to make sense.
TChris

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Michael Jones VINE VOICE on 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 By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on September 11, 2012
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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