Love Removal Machine

One of the curiosities of his writing is how the horizons of the odd world it outlines alter the mind. As one adjusts to the freedom from having to worry about gravity, the weather inside and outside the book begins to swirl in new and unpredictable patterns. When riding a thermal, Marcus's prose can spiral up and away into sublime nonsense. His most inspired conceit may be the discovery, made by the Silentists, that certain proper names—Nancy, Erin, Patricia, Tina—influence behavior. Your name can determine your destiny. For those who have wondered if life might have turned out differently if they were given another name or parents, this book offers statistical proof your suspicions were correct.

The challenge of the nonlinear, anti-realist literature Marcus yearns for is finding a way to circle back and address the daily crises of life. Determined to thwart our Pavlovian responses to characters and situations, he doesn't always have anything—except clinical drollery—to take their place. His writing expresses a desire to move readers that it can't yet fulfill. "In a perfect world, books would give more sexual pleasure," the character Ben Marcus opines. "People would give more sexual pleasure. Sex would give more sexual pleasure. A storm would come and we could drop our trousers and finally really fuck the wind."

I wish. In two books now, Marcus has proven himself to be the epitome of the writer's writer. But he has the talent—and apparently the wish—to be more. Despite its many virtues, his novel is only a cerebral turn-on. Here's hoping his next one is as visceral and sexy as it is wickedly smart.

"I am probably Ben Marcus": The novelist contemplates better reading through food.
photo: Sylvia Plachy
"I am probably Ben Marcus": The novelist contemplates better reading through food.

Details

Notable American Women
By Ben Marcus
Vintage, 243 pp., $12.50 paper
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Also in This Issue’s Books Section:

Will Friedwald on Lester Leaps In: The Life and Times of Lester "Pres" Young by Douglas Henry Daniels

Shana Liebman on Valentine by Lucius Shepard

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