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Leaving the Sea: Stories Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 7, 2014


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Leaving the Sea: Stories + The Flame Alphabet (Vintage Contemporaries) + The Age of Wire and String
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307379388
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307379382
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #170,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The second collection from Marcus (The Flame Alphabet) is a peculiar, funny, original analysis of the human psyche and modern language. Split into six parts, the volume fluctuates between traditional narrative (the opener, What Have You Done?, acts as a stranger in a strange land tale: a man reluctantly visits his family, only to learn his present self cannot erase memories of his younger, wilder past) and more experimental fare (the title story, for example, unspools in one breathless, exhilarating sentence). Communication is important to the author, and throughout, characters employ unusual linguistic skills, renaming common tasks (sex becomes lust applications) and speaking about common phrases as if they are alien (These changes in temperatures were called moods and they had interesting foreign names, but I no longer recall them, the narrator in First Love muses). The protagonists of most of the stories are men, and often their conflicts are flared by worried, overactive imaginations. The Moors plots the increasingly elaborate digressions of a man as he trails a coworker to an office coffee machine, spiraling a mundane experience into a psychological death march, while Watching Mysteries with My Mother and The Loyalty Protocol parse the responsibilities of caring for aging parents. A very strong collection. Agent: Denise Shannon, Denise Shannon Literary Agency. (Jan. 8)

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Too often, the label “speculative fiction” catches a bad rap, conjuring dragons, wizards, and warlocks. But Marcus, author most recently of the engrossing, apocalyptic novel, The Flame Alphabet (2011), articulates every grade of the uncanny, with masterful attention to the twisted vortices of language. This new collection includes brilliant, unsettling stories of strange worlds and estranged men, frequently tempered by inexplicable illness. In “Rollingwood,” a corporate manager is left stranded when the mother of his asthmatic son disappears, forcing him to deal with his delicate, reddening child. In “The Dark Arts,” an American “medical tourist” travels to Europe for stem-cell therapy to treat a mysterious, autoimmune “allergy to himself,” only to be abandoned by his girlfriend. Unmatched in his imagining of the human form, Marcus transforms the body into an object with holes bored into it, a transparent burlap sack, and a figure sketched in light. But it’s not all macabre corporeality. A story of a wayward creative-writing professor who conducts a cruise-ship workshop is a downright hilarious and ingenious work of wry metafiction. Recommended especially for fans of speculative fiction that stays grounded in emotional honesty, like that of Donald Barthelme, Blake Butler, and Curtis White. --Diego Báez

More About the Author

Ben Marcus is the author of The Flame Alphabet, Notable American Women, The Father Costume, and The Age of Wire and String. His most recent book, Leaving the Sea, was published by Knopf in January, 2014. Marcus has published short stories in Harper's, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Electric Literature, Granta, The Believer, McSweeney's, Conjunctions, and Tin House. He is editor of The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, and the fiction editor of The American Reader. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in fiction, three Pushcart Prizes, the Berlin Prize, and awards from Creative Capital and The American Academy of Arts and Letters. Since 2000 he has been on the faculty at Columbia University.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Readers who appreciate the lapidary prose, caustic irony, and dystopian universes (often rooted in terrifying realism) made famous by George Saunders and Sam Lipsyte will be in good company in the short stories from Bean Marcus' collection Leaving the Sea.

Many of the sentences have a grammar to them that make them stories within the stories. "The Moors" has a hyper-anxious character Thomas, who navigating precariously at work, reminds me of some of the bumbling characters in Thomas Berger's best novels including Neighbors.

My second favorite story "What Have You Done?" features the ne'er-do-well and hyper-caustic Paul Berger who returning to visit his family after a mysterious absence finds his parents and sister have such low expectations of him that he cannot get them to believe what kind of life he has made for himself. The narrator's descriptions of the bratty children at the family reunion are priceless and speak to the thread of humor that extends through all the stories.

My very favorite story--and this story alone is worth the price of admission--is the lugubrious comic masterpiece "I Can Say Many Nice Things," which features creative writing teacher Fleming who is trying with pathetic futility to recharge his teaching career by offering a creative writing workshop on a cruise ship to students full of narcissistic ennui. Fleming sees his students "as if they were corpses who had been fed some rejuvenating pulp that would allow them to release a few more sentences before dying again."

The caustic writing is buoyed by wisdom and humor. What's remarkable is that most sarcastic humor writing features stories that are flat with characters who are stereotypes. Not so with this Ben Marcus collection. The characters are fully rounded and the stories resonate, so I am compelled Leaving the Sea five stars.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J from NY VINE VOICE on December 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ben Marcus (who debuted with an experimental novel entitled "An Age of Wire and String") puts in some good work here, presenting us with a variety of male characters who are pessimistic worrywarts and routinely find themselves in situations they'd really rather not be in. The prose is pretty engaging, and we genuinely feel for the protagonists who are (at least in their overactive imaginations) far past the prime of their lives and out of place doing anything, especially their day jobs.

Paul is a thirty something at an agonizingly awkward family reunion, Professor Fleming (in a more humorous turn by Marcus) teaches Creative Writing on board a cruise in "I Can Say Many Nice Things"), a young man named Julian suffers from persistent hypochondriasis, and "My Views On the Darkness" gives perhaps the closest peer into the author's psyche that we really get.

What impressed me most about this collection was Julian's tale, which is one of the most realistic portrayals of what it means to be a hypochondriac that I've read in fiction, along with the protagonist in Kinglsey Amis' novel "The Green Man". A worthwhile new voice.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"I don't think my mother will die today." You have to have some admiration for an author who begins a story with such a wonderful inversion of Camus' famous opening to THE STRANGER, even though he soon moves into a clotted dystopia of alienation that makes Camus seem almost cheerful. This particular story, though, "Watching Mysteries With My Mother," is almost normal: a meditation on death (and English mystery series on PBS) that only gradually replaces empathy with detachment. It comes more or less in the middle of a collection of fifteen stories that are thoughtfully arranged, from sad but straightforward at the beginning to weird and still weirder towards the end.

All four stories in Part 1 have male sad-sack protagonists, out of shape, no longer young, unhappily married or divorced. Not cheerful reading. But I liked the second, "I Can Say Many Nice Things," about an professor teaching a fiction-writing class on a cruise ship. Marcus' skewering of the students and the pedagogical balancing act required of the professor is so accurate that it made me laugh out loud; I should have treasured the moment, for it would not happen again. Part 2 contains a couple of stories in the form of interviews with sociologists doing work on childhood and hermit behavior respectively. The content is chilling, but the language is such a perfect parody of academic discourse in the social sciences that I have to quote it:

"The term 'adult' is problematic, I think, and it's too easy to say that my childwork is directly divisive to Matures, particularly Rigid or Bolted Matures.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Stacia R. Roesler VINE VOICE on January 14, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is not light, easy reading. Some of the stories, such as "Watching Mysteries with my Mother", are more like wandering into a philosophy class. Several of them are like SciFi "end of the world" stories, but with interesting moral twists that leave one with a lot to think about. Like Faulkner or Hemingway, these take time to wade through and process, but are well worth the effort. Convoluted familial relationships abound in this book, and an undercurrent of musing about what it means to be a father, to be a son. For example, "The Father Costume" left me thinking, long after I was done reading it, about the intricacies of relationship and what the author was trying to say; the story itself is like the disguises within the story. "Watching Mysteries with my Mother", in particular, reminded me almost of a Jack Kerouac stream-of-consciousness, although it isn't anything like Kerouac's writing! But the angst, fear of death, desire to command death, self-guilt and survivor-guilt---all of these are a shared human experience that Marcus captures very well in that story. Well worth your time.
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