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on July 15, 2014
Beautifully written, if not overwritten. I found the story line to be of minor significance relative to the writing itself, which is sublime (the storyline is unlikely to be appreciated as humorous by anyone not a jew or honorary jew -- it really is deeply, culturally bound and poke u in the eye darkly funny, but outside NY, perhaps not). The author has a true talent for putting words together, esp in this age of minimalism. Here, the words are put together to describe nasty things, but nonetheless, they are brilliantly composed and aesthetically placed in chains as if in a sentence museum. Rather than complete the book, I re-read the first 100 pages, more slowly the second time around, indulging myself by reading aloud when the house was empty, and felt I was given a rare treat by a master. This fellow should stick to short stories, 50 pages max. He would be the master of the genre, at least in terms of craft.
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on April 4, 2015
This was a good idea that was terribly painful to get through. It was so bad that I almost preferred walking on the treadmill with nothing to read rather than keep reading this, but I forced my way through anyway, just to be done with it.

The story takes place in the near future, at a time when the sound of children speaking has become toxic. Eventually, all language, even printed text, follows, and Sam and Claire find themselves with no alternative but to abandon their teenage daughter, Esther. Even though they have to leave her, Sam refuses to give up on somehow keeping their family together, even though Esther's vocal teenage rebellion is slowly killing her parents. The rest of the book meanders through Sam's fruitless struggle to find a cure and to continue practicing a form of Judaism where he goes to a solitary hut in the woods and uses an organic device called a Listener to hear sermons from an underground orange cable that apparently spans the entire world, even though earing the sermons is also killing him.

There are a lot of problems with this book, but the basic ones are that there's never a reason why language became toxic, so the main plot is never resolved. Since it's not a plot driven novel, it then has to depend on the characters, but Sam is the only character given any kind of development, and he's just not that interesting. This book was a waste of my time.
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on September 27, 2012
I heard this author interviewed on PBS and was intrigued with this premise. The voices of the children have come to make the adults physically ill. Who has not had the experience of being torn by the anguish of the changing of an adolescent and the basis of deep love for that child. I did not enjoy the character of the mysterious man who has come to enlist the father of the family, and I tired of the world's reactions to the crisis. Perhaps this story would have been more effective as a short story or novella?
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on October 31, 2014
Started out wonderful!! The concept of language being a toxin or a plaque was a gem of an idea!. But please pass it on to Steven King. By 1/2 way through the religious allegory and biblical references were hard to follow. Ester? daughter's name..hmm salt? Hidden Jewish hiding caves? Got lost in the futuristic religion and lost a lot of the essence of fear. Great concept! Was bored and a tad confused by the end.
But note I did finish it.
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on April 25, 2014
This book is amazing! I had to read it for a class but I couldn't put it down. It's extremely well written, interesting and addicting. Definite must read
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on October 15, 2014
Weird darkly comic bleak fable that points out how loss of a sense of community and lack of substantive communication can destroy civilization. Not for everyone
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on July 26, 2012
Postmodernism has a tentative relationship with language. I hesitate to say it is looked on as a necessary evil, because this is too cliche and does not appropriately convey the complicated nature of the relationship. However, postmodernism teaches to be wary of language's role in our world - perhaps it even is our world. This recent - and the biblical - trepidation towards language is a central theme in Ben Marcus's new novel The Flame Alphabet (Knopf © 2012 $25.95).

In the novel language is a deadly disease that rots the body and turns the mouth into a snarl. Only children seem to be immune to this pandemic. Their free use of language slowly harming, and giving them power over, the adults of society.

On its most basic level the novel is a story about what happens in a post-apocalyptic world when language is the apocalypse. As you can imagine large swaths of the novel pass by with minimal dialogue. It seems often a loophole has to be invented for direct communication. One of the most interesting aspects of this story is the way the characters, and we as readers, come to adjust to the lack of verbal communication. Even with its sparse dialogue the book moves at a quick pace and is never bogged down with overly expository passages.

The characters are one of the weaker points of the story. They are mostly caricatures: A mom who loves her daughter more than anything, a father trying to save his family, a daughter who hates the world, and a devil that does not seem very evil, are some of the primary players. Although this use of caricatures may be purposeful, these uses of the 'everyman' characters in post-apocalyptic fiction is an unfortunate trope in this reviewers opinion. Despite the lack of depth to these characters they are still entertaining enough to move the plot forward.

The novel is almost meant to be inferred rather than understood. It is a parable about the overuse and abuse of language. There is no understanding as a result of our failures to define clearly the speech we are using. Marcus handles this concept well. Four chapters into the novel he spells it out to us in a great paragraph:
"... It troubled us that our common sense has so little medical traction. There were doctors, and there were armchair doctors, and then there were people like us, crawling in the mud, deploying childish diagnostics, hoping that through sheer tone of voice, through the posturing of authority, we would exact some definitive change of reality. Perhaps we thought the world we lived in could be hacked into pleasing shapes simply by what we said. Maybe we still believed that."

This seems to challenge the postmodern paradigm of language. It seems to say that although we think we can alter the world with language, and our bold assertions, we have so far been unable to prove it. Perhaps language does not shape the world around us as much as bring death to it. Perhaps our mindless talk is the ruination of the world. Perhaps language makes us feel like gods. As Marcus says, "we make language in our own image and the language repulses us."

The book suggests that it is our playful useless banter, our postmodern need to speak endlessly on topics to no greater understanding is dangerous. "Child's Play" is deadly. There is no innocence in our play with language and we must recognize our impact. Language is killing us. Shut up and listen, because only by studying the byproduct of our speech can we be cured.

The book is worth checking out, but based on what I have seen Marcus accomplish in his debut short story collection Age of Wire and String I have to admit I was expecting more. However, it is obviously unfair to level critique against a book that is trying to do something in a different way than its predecessors.

For more reviews by me check out my book review blog at biweeklybooksreview [dot] blogspot [dot] com

Thanks for reading!
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on February 2, 2014
Horrifying look at a possible dystopian future that will make you think about what if it happened in our time.
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on August 29, 2014
I'm sorry, I feel stupid, because everyone on the end pages went on and on about the amazing writing and how good a book this is, but I just absolutely did not get it and would not recommend it. Too long, too dark, and I think probably trying to do too much. I didn't like any of the characters, I didn't like the story, I didn't like the plot, I didn't like much of anything except the idea of what I think he was trying to do and I hope he did and apparently he did for many people, but not for me.
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on September 20, 2014
have not finished bookk , it's disturbing but interesting will go bakc to it. Antoinette Baranov
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