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 namesNancy, Erin, Patricia, Tinainfluence 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 anythingexcept clinical drolleryto 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."
photo: Sylvia Plachy
"I am probably Ben Marcus": The novelist contemplates better reading through food.
Notable American Women By Ben Marcus
Vintage, 243 pp., $12.50 paper
Buy this book
I wish. In two books now, Marcus has proven himself to be the epitome of the writer's writer. But he has the talentand apparently the wishto 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.