Ben Marcus returns with a collection of timely dystopian visions of alienation in a modern world. Here a hapless, corporate drone finds love after being disfigured from testing his employer’s newest nutrition supplement; a father starts to suspect that his son’s precocity has turned sinister; and two architects in a failing marriage must consider the ethics of artificially inciting emotion as they construct a memorial to a terrorist attack. It’s these characters and others that over the course of thirteen short stories showcase Marcus’s compassion, imagination, and mordant humor. Never has existential catastrophe been so much fun.
Marcus's refined and uncompromising third story collection (following Leaving the Sea), dissects the American experience through language that is always precise, unexpected, and alive. In the tone-setting first story, "Cold Little Bird," a 10-year-old boy's sudden aversion to affection threatens to dismantle his parents' marriage. Two married architects attempt to build a potentially unbuildable memorial for a terrorist attack in the excellent "Blueprints for St. Louis," while a mother leaves her own family to care for the husband and sons of her recently deceased sister in "The Boys." The somewhat straightforward plots of these stories cede center stage to the brutal strangeness and ominous mood of Marcus's language, which is best expressed in the collection's centerpiece, "A Suicide of Trees," a nightmarish tale of a middle-aged man searching for his missing father. Throughout, each story features moments of considered, lacerating prose ("A husband, these days, is a bag of need with a dank wet hole in its bottom. The sheer opposite of a go bag.") threaded together by sentences that, like a marionette's strings, bring the world to full, expansive life. This is a bracing, forceful collection.