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Notable American Women: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries Original) [Paperback]

Ben Marcus
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

1 Mar 2002 Vintage Contemporaries Original
Ben Marcus achieved cult status and gained the admiration of his peers with his first book, The Age of Wire and String. With Notable American Women he goes well beyond that first achievement to create something radically wonderful, a novel set in a world so fully imagined that it creates its own reality.

On a farm in Ohio, American women led by Jane Dark practice all means of behavior modification in an attempt to attain complete stillness and silence. Witnessing (and subjected to) their cultish actions is one Ben Marcus, whose father, Michael Marcus, may be buried in the back yard, and whose mother, Jane Marcus, enthusiastically condones the use of her son for (generally unsuccessful) breeding purposes, among other things. Inventing his own uses for language, the author Ben Marcus has written a harrowing, hilarious, strangely moving, altogether engrossing work of fiction that will be read and argued over for years to come.


Product details

  • Paperback: 243 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; 1st Vintage Contemporaries Ed edition (1 Mar 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375713786
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375713781
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.6 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 208,508 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rewarding read - but you have to work at it 16 Jun 2012
By Verve
Format:Paperback
There are few writers that I can read over and over, but some force you to do so, and in doing so your reap the rewards - this novel is a challenging read - but that is what I favour... being able to return to a novel and in each reading coming across elements I had not found before, or which had not hit me quite so intensely in the earlier reading(s) - making the work somehow new again, deeper, more fulfilling... Jayne Joso is another author who has this effect - with lines that plant themselves in your memory and which you find yourself musing over later on in a cafe - or lying awake some night... check out both these authors - and I recommend Perfect Architect and Soothing Music for Stray Cats.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard like wet granite 4 May 2003
By James Wallis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is not an easy book. It is a difficult book. It is not a conventional book. It is not a conventionally unconventional book. It is challenging. "Hey," it says, "want a fight?"
It is not for people who like happy endings or, for that matter, endings.
Ben Marcus's prose glistens darkly, heavy and slug-like, subtle, sublime and subliminal. You may have to read it aloud to yourself to understand its full weight. If you do this in public, you will be arrested.
If you thought "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" redefined the scope of what a novel could be and threw down the gauntlet to modern writers, then you are unlikely to get beyond the sixth page of Notable American Women. But you're welcome to try.
Not as good as The Age of Wire and String, but the moon is not as good as the sun.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Maybe you'll like it too 8 Mar 2004
By John C. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Mr. Marcus seems to be a little misunderstood and rightly so; he is not completely interested in being completely understood as far as I can tell. Notable American Women by Ben Marcus is probably not for everyone (and yes, some books are or should be). First, if you are interested in notable American women, this book isn't about that. If you are happy by nature or genuinely miss diagramming sentences, you may not like this book. I mean that with no innuendo. The book is boldly, perhaps brazenly, creative, cynical and hilarious. But if the near-incessant cynicism is unpalatable to you, it simply won't be that funny. For me, when this book is not completely on the mark nailing Skinnerian human nature (not nailing it to anything, mind you, just hammering it), Marcus' use of language is enough to completely engage me. This book is a matter of words more so than most books. There is great insight, humanity and humor here (I laughed out loud often), but your enjoyment, I think, will ultimately depend on your patience with a creative and relatively unrestrained lyrical prose that is more purely portrayed in Marcus' The Age of Wire and String. In my opinion, a plot helps, so I enjoyed this book more than I did Wire and String. There is talk of Notable American Women being science fiction, I dunno, maybe, sorta, sure. I give it 5 stars because that's how much I liked it.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well, I certainly haven't read anything like it before... 9 Jun 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I first picked up "Notable American Women: A Novel" because (blushing) the cover caught my eye. I didn't know anything about the book itself, nor the author Ben Marcus. It was, as other reviewers have said, very original and unique. The plot is based on lists of what to eat, what to wear, how to act, etc. in Ben Marcus' world, a place where women dominate. However, the plot was where I had my issues with the book. It is up the reader to soak up the bits and pieces of plot from the lists and descriptions, and although some things he points out about our modern culture hits the target dead center, other ideas I had trouble accepting. For readers who are willing to try something new or put a lot of weight on originality, try this book. For all others, read this with an open mind, and be prepared for something VERY different.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lapidary Lunacy 10 Oct 2010
By Bartolo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
When someone writes a straight biography of Ben Marcus, I will be a customer. For this surreal parody of a feminist cult, set in the Ohio of his boyhood, must be in some ways autobiographical, but taken to absurd, imaginative extremes. It would be fun to discover which of the cockamamie inventions, therapies, theories are based partly in fact and which are made up from whole cloth, for most resemble no cult or human consciousness movement I've ever heard of.

But I welcome Marcus as obviously one of the most gifted postmodern authors of his generation, perhaps the most innovative, and often the most hilarious. Now that Beckett and Gilbert Sorrentino are both gone, it's important for serious literary art to be fueled by a sense of humor, and preferably a ferocious one. A mark of general awareness of the human condition? You decide.

Marcus has a huge and varied vocabulary, obviously a feel for the sound of words, and chisels his sentences like a modern-day Flaubert. This is part of the glory of his writing here, and also cause for effort on the reader's part. I didn't find the writing settle into a rhythm that pulled me along, as happens with so much literature, even Beckett's, but a staccato series of sentences and paragraphs, self-consciously hewn. But this is certainly worth the trouble: as with modernist and postmodernist writers from Joyce onward, slowing one's reading pace is well worth the rewards of originality , certainly of Marcus' verbal pyrotechnics.

Other reviews here will make up for what I've omitted in this description, but I wanted to add my own encomiums. Few of the younger generation have risen to take up the challenge left by Beckett, Perec, Calvino, Sorrentino and others; but we have Marcus, presumably at the dawn of a long and rich career, and, happily, writing in our own American idiom.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rewarding read - but you have to work at it 16 Jun 2012
By Verve - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
There are few writers that I can read over and over, but some force you to do so, and in doing so your reap the rewards - this novel is a challenging read - but that is what I favour... being able to return to a work and in each reading coming across elements I had not found before, or which had not hit me quite so intensely in the earlier reading(s) - making the work somehow new again, deeper, more fulfilling... Jayne Joso is another author who has this effect - with lines that plant themselves in your memory and which you find yourself musing over later on in a cafe - or lying awake some night... check out both these authors - and I strongly recommend Perfect Architect and Soothing Music for Stray Cats.
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