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The Age of Wire and String Paperback – September 1, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In these 41 fictions (most are only a page or two), Marcus guides us through the postmodern wreckage of our homes and social customs. Deformed structures call for deformed expressions; using a form pioneered by Gertrude Stein, the book's eight sections pull the everyday ("Food"; "The House"; "Persons") through the looking-glass of language, coining new terms as necessary. The result is the combination of gorgeous, sensuous realism and disjointed action that has been coming together in the leading avant-garde journal Conjunctions, where Marcus is an editor. In these pages, which by turns read like a technical manual and like lyric poetry, one's wife and toaster can be connected on the same circuit, and "only the lawns feeding upward afford the angels an exit." Marcus's clear eye for the suburban sublime allows his definitions?of the structures and categories we impose on ourselves, of the people in his life and of hidden "natural" phenomena?to resonate in a way that is much richer than, say, Douglas Coupland's inventories of pop culture. The shockingly abstract terms Marcus uses to describe our intimate selves ("the condition of corpse is achieved with a lotion, usually") mock our attempts to understand and explain away our bodies and the things that happen to them. This debut collection may just succeed in sneaking prose-poetry to a wider, younger audience.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

It's surreal, but not dada; fantastic, but not fantasy or sf; mysterious, but not a mystery; fiction, but almost totally lacking in characters, plot, or drama. It might be called "flash fiction" since most of the pieces are only a page or two, but unlike Barry Yourgrau's or Mark Amerika's "flashes," these are not complete unto themselves. The Age of Wire and String is a sort of metafictional parallel universe reconnecting elements of mass culture, personal experience, philosophy, law, and culture in obscure and mysterious ways. Over 40 snippets are categorized into sections on sleep, God, food, the house, animals, weather, persons, and society. Each section has its own glossary of terms, such as "CARL Name applied to food built from textiles, sticks, and rags. Implements used to aid ingestion are termed...the lens, the dial, the knob." This highly original work will appeal to ambitious readers who enjoy Joyce, Beckett, or other writers who confound our assumptions about language and perception. A potential cult classic; recommended for all medium to large academic and public libraries.
Jim Dwyer, California State Univ. Lib., Chico
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; 2nd edition (September 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564781968
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564781963
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #129,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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 is a collection short stories, Leaving the Sea, published by Knopf in January, 2014. His short stories have appeared 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 a new anthology of stories that he has edited -- New American Stories -- will be published by Vintage Books in July, 2015. Among his awards are 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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By on December 13, 1997
Format: Hardcover
"There is no larger task than that of cataloging a culture," writes Marcus, "particularly when that culture has remained willfully hidden to the routine in-gazing practiced by professional disclosers, who, after systematically looting our country of its secrets, are now busy shading every example of so-called local color into their own banal hues." Marcus' own compulsively secretive catalog guts our conceptions of American culture like a lit match held to a tinder-dry house. In chapters titled with emotional primitives -- Sleep, The House, Animal, Persons -- short treatises on such worn elements of our daily experience as "Automobile, Watchdog" invert those objects into their otherworldly counterparts: "Girl burned in water, supplementary terms 'help' or X, basic unit of religious current."
Like all master stylists, Marcus is something of a guerrilla tactician. His self-declared task is the re-invention of the wheel, and the weapons he brings to bear on the problem include the modes of writing used in histories, personal narratives, and product manuals. The chapter on God includes such metaphysical redefinitions as "HEAVEN. Area of final containment. It is modeled after the first house. It may be hooked and slid and shifted. The bottom may be sawed through. Members inside stare outward and sometimes reach." This same neutrally-toned, semantically dissociated language is frequently used to disguise charged accounts of childhood experience -- warming his hands in winter by the "burning ball," an older brother's asthma attack, the mysterious girl called Jennifer who causes "partial blindness in regard to hands.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
I cherish this book. I bought it a long time ago, when it was a Knopf hardcover, from a little bookstore now defunct.
Structurally this is one of the few books that has attempted this format. I mean, this isn't quite a novel, not quite stories. In a sense, this book could be read in any direction, front to back, middle towards the outsides, etc. It has a hypertextual feel, to use a fancy word.
I'm really enthusiastic about structure. I'm always thrilled when a book comes out that seems to share my enthusiasm.
Not many books have done this well. Robert Coover's short story The Babysitter is a common example, mainly because it is such a great story.
Julio Cortazar's novel Hopscotch develops a similar structure: There are three or four different orders in which to read the chapters. It is a sad story of two lovers.
James Kelman's newest novel, the powerful book Translated Accounts is another example of this structure.
What makes Ben Marcus's book so unique besides this shared, rare structure, is the sudden, jarring ways in which he uses language. Everything is folded and shorn, each word teeting on the edge of nonsense, like the lyrical antics of Dr Seuss.
There is a creeping sense of autobiography behind Age of Wire & String that I have heard will be further explored in his next novel Notable American Woman, due out in January, I think. The cover is to be designed by the same guy who did the redesigns of Rick Moody's books, so I suspect it'll be a spanking good-looking book.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By on July 20, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Language is essentially arbitrary-- a collection of sounds we make with our mouths and little squiggles of circles and lines-- and from this mess of linguistic scratching we find meaning and ultimately create a bit of identity for ourselves, our families, and our communities. In "The Age of Wire and String" Ben Marcus has turned this relationship between humanity and language inside out. In a tone that is in turns technically earnest and sweet, Marcus describes our world as it must appear to an alien race visiting earth. The incredible feat in this collection of "stories" is that while it seemingly "makes no sense," some sense does, in fact, bubble up through the intricate narrative tangle. By lumping his stories together in sections such as "Animal," "Persons," and "The House," (with glossaries that further confound the reader), Marcus gives us impressions of physical reality as though they are being experien! ced in utero; there's a primal, pre-historical feel to many passages, even the ones that make vague references to the twentieth century. Like the more rambling works of Donald Barthelme or the Richard Brautigan of "In Watermelon Sugar," what keeps you reading "The Age of Wire and String" is the author's seeming incomprehension that you won't understand a single word he says, which makes for some compelling reading indeed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By fnord77 on October 7, 2006
Format: Paperback
Ordered this book while doing a stint as a bookseller, but didn't manage to buy it before the company tanked and closed our store. I did, however, manage to read it. I'm still not sure what I read, exactly, but I was certain that I wanted to read it again. Strange obfuscations, language as weapon and target simultaneously, suburbia as new mythic landscape, most wondrous strange, really. Appropriate that the dalkey archive published this semantic violence; Flann O'Brien is sorely missed, surely. Anyway, one of the present commentators likened this book to hypertext, with its variable narrative(?) possibilities. I would add Tom Phillips' A Humument to that list, another obfuscation of language's (and text for that matter) possibilities. Recommended for anyone with a yen for the experimental.
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