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Leaving the Sea Hardcover – 7 Jan 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 273 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (7 Jan. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307379388
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307379382
  • Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 2.7 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,259,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'A new short-story collection set in a distorted world where disease strikes at random and people disappear without trace. From the author of the dazzlingly original The Flame Alphabet and The Age of Wire and String.' --'Books of 2014', Guardian<br \><br \>'Exhilarating and also at times hilarious... Thoroughly and perversely entertaining' --New York Times<br \><br \>'As the collection progresses, things get weirder... The stories are dystopic, nightmarish, Kafkaesque in their refusal to explain their own distortions. The writing is so sharp, the world seems made afresh with every story' --Emma Brockes, Guardian<br \><br \>'One of the most innovative writers of the concise form around. Leaving the Sea is a fascinating showcase of Marcus' stylistic range, though the stories are all linked by a heady mix of dystopia, absurdity and detached male protagonists. Marcus balances out the darker, more intense moments with well-placed comic lines. It's an absorbing collection, and marks out the author as an eclectic and valuable talent' --The List<br \><br \>'Relentlessly sardonic, cynical and ambitiously experimental in style... Leaving the Sea makes you want to tell everyone you know to go and read Ben Marcus' --Financial Times<br \><br \>'Marcus is adept at putting his darker subject matter into relief with bright sparks of humour. Leaving the Sea left me sucker punched' --Observer<br \><br \>'Leaving the Sea has plenty of the chair-gripping alienation that marks his previous books, but there's a greater emotional complexity. Thoroughly and perversely entertaining' --Scotsman<br \><br \>'Ben Marcus is one of the most stunningly original and profoundly unsettling writers of his generation' --Stuart Kelly, Guardian<br \><br \>'Intriguing... full of deft, dark humour' --Times Literary Supplement<br \><br \>'Ben Marcus is one of the most stunningly original and profoundly unsettling writers of his generation' --Stuart Kelly, Guardian<br \><br \>'The prose I lethal, dissecting, surprising, oblique… This is writing that pushes to the edge, where it's bleak and awful and darkly funny' ***** --Skinny<br \><br \>'Ben Marcus is one of the most stunningly original and profoundly unsettling writers of his generation' --Stuart Kelly, Guardian<br \><br \>'Leaving the Sea is one of the most interesting books I've read this year, not just for its content but also for what it tells us about the author's body of work and his progress as a writer' --John Self, Asylum blog<br \><br \>'Ben Marcus is one of the most stunningly original and profoundly unsettling writers of his generation' --Stuart Kelly, Guardian<br \><br \>'Darkly humorous and linguistically adventurous' --'Top Summer Reads', Financial Times<br \><br \>'Ben Marcus is one of the most stunningly original and profoundly unsettling writers of his generation' --Stuart Kelly, Guardian<br \><br \>'Marcus's propulsive, crystalline sentences pull us in. The world looks different once you put Leaving the Sea down - testament to the infective power of its vision' --Literary Review<br \><br \>'Ben Marcus is one of the most stunningly original and profoundly unsettling writers of his generation' --Stuart Kelly, Guardian<br \><br \>'A typically mind-expanding collection from America's most fascinating experimentalist, full of strange new insights and brilliantly dislocated language' --'Books of the Year', Daily Telegraph<br \><br \>'Ben Marcus is one of the most stunningly original and profoundly unsettling writers of his generation' --Stuart Kelly, Guardian<br \><br \>'Ben Marcus's wonde --Stuart Kelly, Guardian

'He's funny but there's always something around the next corner to make you catch your breath. Always original, and frequently surprising, these stories are the fruits of a fertile and unique imagination' --Paperback review, Herald

'The way Ben Marcus ekes out the facts and emotions is exquisite. Marcus writes with rare economy. He's a master' **** --Scotsman --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

BEN MARCUS was born in Chicago in 1967. The son of a mathematician and a literary scholar, he was raised in the Midwest, Austin, London, Aarhus, and New York. He holds degrees from New York University and Brown University, and is on the faculty at Columbia University in New York. His writing has been published in Granta, the New Yorker, Harper's, the Paris Review, and the New York Times. He is the author of Notable American Women, The Age of Wire and String and The Flame Alphabet. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Genome on 12 Sept. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Doesn't start off too promisingly, the first 4 stories lacking Marcus' linguistic pyrotechnics and displaying rather conventional narratives involving people in difficult family relationships. The second story is even about a writer giving a creative writing course which I always find self-indulgent an d full of in-trade references. But then the book absolutely takes off & soars as you see Marcus display what I call linguistic dystopias as he creates scenarios where language has broken down and been misplaced one after the other and reveals that he is able to do in short story form what his longer novels do. "First Love" is simply the best, as it looks at the strange ritual of seduction & sex through very alien eyes, as if to say all the signs & symbols we use in such a dance, are baffling and leave us a world apart from communicating with our partners. The other story I really enjoyed was "The Loyalty Protocol" which saw some rehearsals for evacuation in the face of an unspecified apocalyptic threat that laid bare the utter futility of the bureaucratic thinking that dreams up such plans. It echoed parts of Marcus' novel "The Flame Alphabet" but still struck new ground. No one else writing today that I know of amputates and then resutures language into the wrong places as Marcus does. So we have "languageflower" in "First Love" and fabrics replacing language in "The Father Costume" where fabric both mutes sound and possesses its own encoding of messages and communication.
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1 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Chris Roberts on 12 Jan. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
The real curiosity or rather the story untold in this collective, is Ben Marcus' lineage to "Kid Spit" Marcus of Old West fame. Why not shape out a fictional ode to family? Here is one account of the author's gunman kin:

"New Mexico Territorial Gazette"
July 14, 1878

There is a low-slung sky over New Mexico the day "Kid Spit" Marcus comes by for a brief talk. For those that ain't from these parts, the overhead clouds and sun mix to battle and this time the sun streaks victory. Inside Bob Hardy's saloon, which is in Fort Sumner, it is a matter of waiting on Marcus. That is more his public name, most in the territory just call him Kid. This here dive is small as a coffin and was made to be such when the Kid gunned down a blowhard by the name of Joe Red. That was near six months ago. It happened right about where your journalist is standing now. He had been threatening the Kid's life. Now Bob Hardy's is a tourist attraction, every one of his shootings makes him faster famous and folks want to see where lead met flesh and won.

The bar door opens, lighting up the dark, grimy interior. It is "Kid Spit" Marcus himself and his presence energizes the bar. He slaps me on the back and I swivel around to take his hand. He gets serious right away. He knows I was thinking hard on the outlaw life. Writing for a paper ain't getting me no easy money nor any harlots and whiskey. Your reporter is younger than him and he says this one thing, "There's many a slip between the cup and the lip." He walks off and turns around at the swinging doors and adds, "Think on it hard." Now the west is a place for those escaping the law back east, that's me. Out here it's easier to fall in with crime cause it's so wide open.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 29 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Leaving the Sea of Mediocrity 30 Nov. 2013
By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Readers who appreciate the lapidary prose, caustic irony, and dystopian universes (often rooted in terrifying realism) made famous by George Saunders and Sam Lipsyte will be in good company in the short stories from Bean Marcus' collection Leaving the Sea.

Many of the sentences have a grammar to them that make them stories within the stories. "The Moors" has a hyper-anxious character Thomas, who navigating precariously at work, reminds me of some of the bumbling characters in Thomas Berger's best novels including Neighbors.

My second favorite story "What Have You Done?" features the ne'er-do-well and hyper-caustic Paul Berger who returning to visit his family after a mysterious absence finds his parents and sister have such low expectations of him that he cannot get them to believe what kind of life he has made for himself. The narrator's descriptions of the bratty children at the family reunion are priceless and speak to the thread of humor that extends through all the stories.

My very favorite story--and this story alone is worth the price of admission--is the lugubrious comic masterpiece "I Can Say Many Nice Things," which features creative writing teacher Fleming who is trying with pathetic futility to recharge his teaching career by offering a creative writing workshop on a cruise ship to students full of narcissistic ennui. Fleming sees his students "as if they were corpses who had been fed some rejuvenating pulp that would allow them to release a few more sentences before dying again."

The caustic writing is buoyed by wisdom and humor. What's remarkable is that most sarcastic humor writing features stories that are flat with characters who are stereotypes. Not so with this Ben Marcus collection. The characters are fully rounded and the stories resonate, so I am compelled Leaving the Sea five stars.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Heavy going, but worth it 14 Jan. 2014
By Stacia R. Roesler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is not light, easy reading. Some of the stories, such as "Watching Mysteries with my Mother", are more like wandering into a philosophy class. Several of them are like SciFi "end of the world" stories, but with interesting moral twists that leave one with a lot to think about. Like Faulkner or Hemingway, these take time to wade through and process, but are well worth the effort. Convoluted familial relationships abound in this book, and an undercurrent of musing about what it means to be a father, to be a son. For example, "The Father Costume" left me thinking, long after I was done reading it, about the intricacies of relationship and what the author was trying to say; the story itself is like the disguises within the story. "Watching Mysteries with my Mother", in particular, reminded me almost of a Jack Kerouac stream-of-consciousness, although it isn't anything like Kerouac's writing! But the angst, fear of death, desire to command death, self-guilt and survivor-guilt---all of these are a shared human experience that Marcus captures very well in that story. Well worth your time.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Sad, Weird, and Weirder 27 Nov. 2013
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"I don't think my mother will die today." You have to have some admiration for an author who begins a story with such a wonderful inversion of Camus' famous opening to THE STRANGER, even though he soon moves into a clotted dystopia of alienation that makes Camus seem almost cheerful. This particular story, though, "Watching Mysteries With My Mother," is almost normal: a meditation on death (and English mystery series on PBS) that only gradually replaces empathy with detachment. It comes more or less in the middle of a collection of fifteen stories that are thoughtfully arranged, from sad but straightforward at the beginning to weird and still weirder towards the end.

All four stories in Part 1 have male sad-sack protagonists, out of shape, no longer young, unhappily married or divorced. Not cheerful reading. But I liked the second, "I Can Say Many Nice Things," about an professor teaching a fiction-writing class on a cruise ship. Marcus' skewering of the students and the pedagogical balancing act required of the professor is so accurate that it made me laugh out loud; I should have treasured the moment, for it would not happen again. Part 2 contains a couple of stories in the form of interviews with sociologists doing work on childhood and hermit behavior respectively. The content is chilling, but the language is such a perfect parody of academic discourse in the social sciences that I have to quote it:

"The term 'adult' is problematic, I think, and it's too easy to say that my childwork is directly divisive to Matures, particularly Rigid or Bolted Matures. I may help accelerate a latent behavior, I may enable conflict vectors along the lines of the Michiganers, who fasted as a form of warfare, and I feign indifference to familial tension, but I think that success itself has been fetishized, and a certain nostalgia for growth has spoiled our thinking."

Better buckle up, for similar diction will recur in many of the later stories. Much as in Ben Marcus' novel THE FLAME ALPHABET, they move towards totalitarian or post-apocalyptic societies. In some, as in "The Loyalty Protocol," even normal interactions and family bonds are governed by community vigilantism whose standards the protagonist cannot fathom. In "The Father Costume," life on land has been replaced by rowing in small boats, and language has all but disappeared. In "First Love" and the other stories in Part 5, a primitive pseudo-science has taken over even the normal processes of feeling and expressing love. But "Leaving the Sea," the title story, is a tour-de-force: six pages of increasing madness in a single run-on period, breaking down with devastating effect at the very end into a stuttered gasp of staccato sentences.

Yes, Marcus is good -- for those that like him -- but I can't say I derived much enjoyment myself. But I was pleased when the last story of all, "The Moors," about a man ("fat Thomas the sadness machine") lusting after a colleague in his office, returned to at least some semblance of the real world, linking neatly with the tales with which the collection opened.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
If Philip Larkin wrote prose, it might be like this collection. 17 Dec. 2013
By J from NY - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ben Marcus (who debuted with an experimental novel entitled "An Age of Wire and String") puts in some good work here, presenting us with a variety of male characters who are pessimistic worrywarts and routinely find themselves in situations they'd really rather not be in. The prose is pretty engaging, and we genuinely feel for the protagonists who are (at least in their overactive imaginations) far past the prime of their lives and out of place doing anything, especially their day jobs.

Paul is a thirty something at an agonizingly awkward family reunion, Professor Fleming (in a more humorous turn by Marcus) teaches Creative Writing on board a cruise in "I Can Say Many Nice Things"), a young man named Julian suffers from persistent hypochondriasis, and "My Views On the Darkness" gives perhaps the closest peer into the author's psyche that we really get.

What impressed me most about this collection was Julian's tale, which is one of the most realistic portrayals of what it means to be a hypochondriac that I've read in fiction, along with the protagonist in Kinglsey Amis' novel "The Green Man". A worthwhile new voice.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A truly mesmerizing collection 10 Jan. 2014
By Robert Cohn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"When Paul's flight landed in Cleveland, they were waiting for him." So begins "What Have You Done?" the first story in Ben Marcus's hilarious and haunting new collection. It's a pitch-perfect opening note in a book full of characters who can't seem to escape the black cloud of American dread that hangs over them.

In "I Can Say Many Nice Things," a burned-out professor finds himself teaching a fiction writing course on a cruise ship. I imagine it's a nightmare scenario for the author, who teaches writing at Columbia University. As with many of the stories in this collection, it also may serve as a metaphor for where we're headed. If that doesn't sound like the kind of escapist reading experience you dream of, remember that, as a writer, Marcus, like Dostoevsky, Kafka, Borges and Flannery O'Connor before him, is in the business of imagining new and profound ways of conveying the times we live in.

The stories in "Leaving the Sea" are divided into six parts, treating the reader to an astonishing range of style and form. The best books, I think, double as experiences. They take you places you can't get to on your own. "Leaving the Sea," as the title suggests, is a departure from our world to one that resembles it, tilted, however, a little to the left, beautiful, strange, funny, and sad.

These are stories that you can't put down, can't look away from, no matter how uncomfortable they make you feel.
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