Sunday, Feb. 26
Ben Marcus' bracing 2012 novel The Flame Alphabet (Knopf) makes high, messy art from the fantastic. His premise — that the language of children suddenly is toxic to adults — has an immediate power but takes on greater power still as Marcus works it over. He connects it to Babel, to the unsayable name of God, but also to the dark feelings parents are often reluctant to cop to, even when buffeted by the piercing chatter of sugared-up kiddos. Marcus' own language is somewhat dangerous, too: blunt, fragmented, tinged with despair. This year's first must-read novel, The Flame Alphabet gets stranger — and more upsetting — as it goes. There's a Jewish cult whose members meet, quite literally, underground, where they attend to speeches delivered through a fleshy pod; there are children taking to the streets and bludgeoning adults with their shouts; there's the terror that your own child's very existence might be enough to hasten your death.