The Flame Alphabet
I’ve come up with a sort of self-imposed rule to this whole “review” thing I’ve been doing: if a book is so thrilling, breathtaking, inspirational, or whatever you would like to call it, that it causes me to read half of it or more in one day, it gets an A+. I don’t think that’s a foolish rule as the author’s main job is to entertain their readers and any book that entertains enough to cause the average reader to read it in two days (well if I totaled the hours it would probably be less than that really) tops has to be deserving of an A+ right?
Anyway, moving on and so forth, I should tell you that I first heard of The Flame Alphabet from some book-centered site that was praising it as revolutionary or awesome or some form of excellent. I didn’t buy it then, the plot description seemed to read like one of those overly politicized and topical books about the evils of [insert thing here]. I expected it to be sanctimonious dribble that touted the importance of language and literature and all of that stuff under the guise of some ancient gothic-influenced stream of consciousness that went nowhere fast.
I can admit I was wrong.
The book read like a modern retelling of some long-lost mythology or folktale and less like a sermon-on-the-mound. It was interesting, that’s the first thing I can say about it. I found myself turning the pages just out of curiosity; searching for an answer, craving an answer to what all has happened. Yet it was so matter-of-fact in its narrative voice; the world was going to a seemingly literal hell and the main character went through the motions as if were just another odd occurrence. So much of the world Ben Marcus creates in The Flame Alphabet is foreign: Jewish huts, toxic diseases that stem from language, Hebrew letters and underground broadcasts, gangs of rebellious shouting children, it’s as if you’re gazing into an apocalyptical world that was doomed from the start.
But it’s worth the read; lord knows it’s worth the read. It’s worth the read for its strangeness and its seriousness, it’s worth the read for its conventionality and at the same time its unconventionality, it’s worth the read for its plot, which goes nowhere and everywhere at the same time and its narrative voice and its structure and its characters and everything else. His work is heartbreaking, heartwarming, and horrible all at the same time. It’s sermon-styled-story telling stalls and then starts again, leaving the reader convulsed and confused and in some cases cheerful, and yet, I can’t say that you’ll absolutely love it as I’m not sure if I myself “absolutely loved it”, all I can say that whatever you expected before reading it, you’ll be wrong. Because of that, I have to give this an A+, because it’s a book that I’m left wondering about, because it’s a book I read straight through without being forced to, because it’s a book that’s so strange and so foreign that it deserves to be read by anyone and everyone, so at the very least they can make up their mind for themselves.