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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard like wet granite
This is not an easy book. It is a difficult book. It is not a conventional book. It is not a conventionally unconventional book. It is challenging. "Hey," it says, "want a fight?"
It is not for people who like happy endings or, for that matter, endings.
Ben Marcus's prose glistens darkly, heavy and slug-like, subtle, sublime and subliminal...
Published on May 4, 2003 by James Wallis

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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well, I certainly haven't read anything like it before...
I first picked up "Notable American Women: A Novel" because (blushing) the cover caught my eye. I didn't know anything about the book itself, nor the author Ben Marcus. It was, as other reviewers have said, very original and unique. The plot is based on lists of what to eat, what to wear, how to act, etc. in Ben Marcus' world, a place where women dominate...
Published on June 9, 2002


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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard like wet granite, May 4, 2003
This review is from: Notable American Women: A Novel (Paperback)
This is not an easy book. It is a difficult book. It is not a conventional book. It is not a conventionally unconventional book. It is challenging. "Hey," it says, "want a fight?"
It is not for people who like happy endings or, for that matter, endings.
Ben Marcus's prose glistens darkly, heavy and slug-like, subtle, sublime and subliminal. You may have to read it aloud to yourself to understand its full weight. If you do this in public, you will be arrested.
If you thought "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" redefined the scope of what a novel could be and threw down the gauntlet to modern writers, then you are unlikely to get beyond the sixth page of Notable American Women. But you're welcome to try.
Not as good as The Age of Wire and String, but the moon is not as good as the sun.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Maybe you'll like it too, March 7, 2004
By 
John C. (Pasadena, California USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Notable American Women: A Novel (Paperback)
Mr. Marcus seems to be a little misunderstood and rightly so; he is not completely interested in being completely understood as far as I can tell. Notable American Women by Ben Marcus is probably not for everyone (and yes, some books are or should be). First, if you are interested in notable American women, this book isn't about that. If you are happy by nature or genuinely miss diagramming sentences, you may not like this book. I mean that with no innuendo. The book is boldly, perhaps brazenly, creative, cynical and hilarious. But if the near-incessant cynicism is unpalatable to you, it simply won't be that funny. For me, when this book is not completely on the mark nailing Skinnerian human nature (not nailing it to anything, mind you, just hammering it), Marcus' use of language is enough to completely engage me. This book is a matter of words more so than most books. There is great insight, humanity and humor here (I laughed out loud often), but your enjoyment, I think, will ultimately depend on your patience with a creative and relatively unrestrained lyrical prose that is more purely portrayed in Marcus' The Age of Wire and String. In my opinion, a plot helps, so I enjoyed this book more than I did Wire and String. There is talk of Notable American Women being science fiction, I dunno, maybe, sorta, sure. I give it 5 stars because that's how much I liked it.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well, I certainly haven't read anything like it before..., June 9, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Notable American Women: A Novel (Paperback)
I first picked up "Notable American Women: A Novel" because (blushing) the cover caught my eye. I didn't know anything about the book itself, nor the author Ben Marcus. It was, as other reviewers have said, very original and unique. The plot is based on lists of what to eat, what to wear, how to act, etc. in Ben Marcus' world, a place where women dominate. However, the plot was where I had my issues with the book. It is up the reader to soak up the bits and pieces of plot from the lists and descriptions, and although some things he points out about our modern culture hits the target dead center, other ideas I had trouble accepting. For readers who are willing to try something new or put a lot of weight on originality, try this book. For all others, read this with an open mind, and be prepared for something VERY different.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lapidary Lunacy, October 10, 2010
By 
Bartolo (New York City, New York USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Notable American Women: A Novel (Paperback)
When someone writes a straight biography of Ben Marcus, I will be a customer. For this surreal parody of a feminist cult, set in the Ohio of his boyhood, must be in some ways autobiographical, but taken to absurd, imaginative extremes. It would be fun to discover which of the cockamamie inventions, therapies, theories are based partly in fact and which are made up from whole cloth, for most resemble no cult or human consciousness movement I've ever heard of.

But I welcome Marcus as obviously one of the most gifted postmodern authors of his generation, perhaps the most innovative, and often the most hilarious. Now that Beckett and Gilbert Sorrentino are both gone, it's important for serious literary art to be fueled by a sense of humor, and preferably a ferocious one. A mark of general awareness of the human condition? You decide.

Marcus has a huge and varied vocabulary, obviously a feel for the sound of words, and chisels his sentences like a modern-day Flaubert. This is part of the glory of his writing here, and also cause for effort on the reader's part. I didn't find the writing settle into a rhythm that pulled me along, as happens with so much literature, even Beckett's, but a staccato series of sentences and paragraphs, self-consciously hewn. But this is certainly worth the trouble: as with modernist and postmodernist writers from Joyce onward, slowing one's reading pace is well worth the rewards of originality , certainly of Marcus' verbal pyrotechnics.

Other reviews here will make up for what I've omitted in this description, but I wanted to add my own encomiums. Few of the younger generation have risen to take up the challenge left by Beckett, Perec, Calvino, Sorrentino and others; but we have Marcus, presumably at the dawn of a long and rich career, and, happily, writing in our own American idiom.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rewarding read - but you have to work at it, June 16, 2012
This review is from: Notable American Women: A Novel (Paperback)
There are few writers that I can read over and over, but some force you to do so, and in doing so your reap the rewards - this novel is a challenging read - but that is what I favour... being able to return to a work and in each reading coming across elements I had not found before, or which had not hit me quite so intensely in the earlier reading(s) - making the work somehow new again, deeper, more fulfilling... Jayne Joso is another author who has this effect - with lines that plant themselves in your memory and which you find yourself musing over later on in a cafe - or lying awake some night... check out both these authors - and I strongly recommend Perfect Architect and Soothing Music for Stray Cats.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Silence Your Mother, Dig A Hole For Your Father, March 23, 2008
By 
Book Duck (New Mexico, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Notable American Women: A Novel (Paperback)
A surreal manifestation of the brilliant, twisted mind of Ben Marcus, who powers his prose with the dark heart of a poet. Reading him is kind of like meeting a gentle someone on the street who looks you in the eye and tells you he's going to eat your pets.

This is where modern fiction wanted to go all along, a book that will awaken a part of the brain you didn't realize you had lost. It is so powerful and illuminating that you almost forget it might be the funniest book you've ever read.

Just for fun: as you read, occasionally imagine the author's parents reading this. Imagine him explaining to them that the parents in the book are just fictional characters.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Notable American (Experimental) Fiction, April 3, 2002
By 
wordtron (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Notable American Women: A Novel (Paperback)
This is an amazing example of using English as a Foreign Language for English speakers. It actually does everything using vowels, consonants, and gears! Picture the following example, where we have removed the clothing and outer plastic shell to look at the underlying framework: When the button on the base is pressed, the song "Ben Marcus" begins to play. After a second or two, the motor begins to spin. It spins in one direction, then changes direction and spins in the other direction in time with the music. The shaft of the motor is connected by a rubber belt to a larger wheel. Using a larger wheel gears the tiny motor down enough to match the timing of the music. Voila -- Notable American Fiction. (This is EXACTLY what reading this book is like.)
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Notable American Writer, December 29, 2008
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This review is from: Notable American Women: A Novel (Paperback)
Ben Marcus
The Age of Wire and String
Notable American Women

If, in the `postmodern' canon David Foster Wallace made claim to the footnote and Mark Z. Danielewski to crazed typography, then in The Age of Wire and String Ben Marcus has pretty much secured The Glossary as his initial trademark feature.

The Glossary has, of course, been used in fiction before - most recently by Neal Stephenson in his massive Anathem - but never before, as far as I know, has it made up the entirety of a work of fiction. In structure it somewhat resembles J.G. Ballard's 1969 The Atrocity Exhibition and is reminiscent of Ballard's book in sheer weirdness. Both authors effectively re-invent the American cultural landscape. But where Ballard used the glossary approach to simply break `normal' narrative flow, Marcus gives us a Users Guide to a parallel universe.

TAOWAS is subtitled "stories" by Ben Marcus and the book could be read as a string of bizarre vignettes, but it can also be read as a strange narrative of a unique world, one that is essentially fleshed out in Marcus' second book, Notable American Women.

We know there's trouble afoot when one of the blurbs from the back cover reads: "How can one word from Ben Marcus' rotten, filthy heart be trusted?" Especially when said blurb is attributed to Michael Marcus, Ben's father.

Thus begins a truly bizarre, but strangely moving, story of young Ben Marcus' upbringing. Notable American Women makes Stephen Wright's seriously dysfunctional family in M31: a family romance, look commonplace. Hunkered down on a remote farm in an alternate Ohio the clearly delusional Jane Dark leads a group of American women to practice "behaviour modification" to attain complete stillness and silence (which, not surprisingly, often leads to death). Marcus' father is buried alive in the back yard and assailed with "language" attacks. His mother happily encourages the use of young Ben for rigorous breeding purposes for the cults' younger female followers.

There are moments when one begins to think that Marcus clearly loathes his parents, then others when one wonders what kind of wonderful upbringing could inspire such a fevered and vivid imagination. Working out Marcus' own position in this chaotic rendering is like juggling mercury or herding feral cats. Does he despise women or love them? Does he despise himself or simply relish the tearing apart of his own physical demeanour to further his story?

The one thing we can be sure of is his true love of language and the power of naming. This becomes decidedly visceral: "Each time we changed my sister's name, she shed a brittle layer of skin. The skins accrued at first in the firewood bin and were meant to indicate something final of the name that had been shed - a print, an echo, a husk, although we knew not what." And things get decidedly odd when young Ben starts wearing his sister's discarded skins or opts to bath with them.

Language here is a virus. Ben's father, buried beneath ground, is assailed by Larry the Punisher, whose task it is to blast Michael Marcus with words. Sex is reduced to a "parts consultation." To avoid language the women practice a grotesque version of pantomine, the complexity of which requires the crushing and removal of certain bones resulting in a "near-boneless approach, when the flesh can `rubber-dog' various facial and postural styles."

Thematically there are moments reminiscent of Jack O'Connell's writing in such books as The Skin Palace and Word Made Flesh - the obsession with language as a visceral, physical weapon. In its apocalyptic yet poetic tone it has much in common with Steve Erickson's work. But at the end of the day Marcus' voice, in both The Age of Wire and String and Notable American Women, Marcus' voice is very much his own.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Strangest Book, November 12, 2007
This review is from: Notable American Women: A Novel (Paperback)
This may very well be the strangest book I've ever read. (I am excluding work with photos or art.) The language Marcus uses has a very simple pattern, in the way he habitually redefines very common words to recreate their meaning within the context of the larger meaning of the book, but it works. The meaning blooms like a poisonous flower.

The English language is slippery, and its ambiguity is used to great effect in poetry. But Marcus uses the language by re-envisioning the meaning of certain very common words. The word "cult" is invariably used when trying to nail down what this book means. Well, "cults" do redefine common words...just not to this extent. Plus, the book does not apply remotely to any extant cult, so that reference is not too helpful in understanding the book. "Notable American Women" should shake you up.

Hey, Naked Lunch was wild, but this is wilder, IMO.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Difficult, but worth it, September 21, 2013
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Any attempt to describe this book is confusing. Roughly speaking, it is a book made out of language. Language is the main character. This language is set in a Midwest that is as abstract as the landscapes in Wallace Stevens poems, and concerns a cult of women who ritualize stillness and silence. There is another character, a boy, who lives among the women as a kind of captive in a war between the sexes. That war is described in the lyrical and formal epistolary language of diplomacy, though you're never sure what country or continent or even time. It gets under your skin, the way a haunting modern dance performance might. It just so happens that the dancers are nouns and verbs and adjectives and run-on sentences.
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Notable American Women: A Novel
Notable American Women: A Novel by Ben Marcus (Paperback - March 19, 2002)
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