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The Age of Wire and String (American Literature (Dalkey Archive)) [Paperback]

Ben Marcus
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Mar 2005 American Literature (Dalkey Archive)
In The Age of Wire and String, hailed by Robert Coover as "the most audacious literary debut in decades," Ben Marcus welds together a new reality from the scrapheap of the past. Dogs, birds, horses, automobiles, and the weather are some of the recycled elements in Marcus's first collection -- part fiction, part handbook -- as familiar objects take on markedly unfamiliar meanings. Gradually, this makeshift world, in its defiance of the laws of physics and language, finds a foundation in its own implausibility, as Marcus produces new feelings and sensations -- both comic and disturbing -- in the definitive guide to an unpredictable yet exhilarating plane of existence.

Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (1 Mar 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564781968
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564781963
  • Product Dimensions: 22.1 x 13.6 x 1.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 842,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"A rare, genius-struck achievement... filled with great beauties, high themes, enormous sorrows."-- Kirkus Reviews

From the Back Cover

"'The Age of Wire and String' evades classification, persisting in your mind because of its psychotically ardent prose. It contains no debased images, no second-hand symbols. It will find its fans among those people who relish prose that mimics dream, who love it when words are used as they once were, as incantations, as spells to summon up the contorted beings of the imagination."

"Transfixing…an extraordinary debut. The pervasive tone of the book is elegaic: buried among its leaves is a testament to personal loss, whose fragmented inscription gestures movingly at a sorrow that is too great for words; it is perhaps in this tragedy that the book's unique style has its genesis. Most contemporary fiction is afraid to make the reader work hard for understanding, and in consequence the reader's rewards are smaller. But 'The Age of Wire and String', a treasury of interconnected fables of violence and hope, stands out as an exhilarating work of literature. Multiple readings are rewarding."

"Intelligent and good-humoured, I believe this novel has a place within the chaotic tradition of Sterne's 'Tristram Shandy'. It follows that, if novels are to reflect the complexities of the modern world, they must take on some of its messy characteristics. There is no shortage of confusion here, in a book which describes itself as 'a catalog of the life project', as prosecuted in a time of uncertainty."
ANDREW BISWELL, 'Daily Telegraph'

"This is the most audacious literary debut in decades – witty, startlingly inventive, funny but fundamentally disturbing, language itself held together by whimsical bits of wire and string. Ben Marcus is one-of-a-kind stand-up phenom, a comic writer of power and originality. 'The Age of Wire and String' marks the arrival of a unique new talent in American letters."

"Frequently touching and funny, plenty of madness, magic and gods…a cross between a scientific manual, 'Monty Python' and a kind of Bible, with a surreal and opaque logic of its own."

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent in conception, sagging in execution 6 Jan 2000
By A Customer
The "age of wire and string" initially strikes the reader as a wholly impenetrable onslaught. Words are detached from their conventional meanings, syntax is choppy and frequently highly ambiguous, and it is often difficult to discern quite what the subject of each chapter (or prose poem, of sorts) might be. However, perseverence does reap benefits. It soon becomes clear that, although to a great extent Marcus' apparent purpose is at least initially to disorientate the reader, the new meanings of his words do seem to have fairly fixed meanings. That is to say, they tend always to be used in similar ways with other similarly dislocated words, such that "Thompson" comes to denote some sort of godhead, "weather" a threat, a fear of violence or of exposure, and "the family" a subterranean refugee race.
Once these initial realisations are made, the import of the book becomes clearer. The peculiar style (a kind of hallucinatory collage of National Geographic articles, encyclopaedia entries and users manuals), the strangely brutal combination of spurious objectivity and occasional shocking instances where the reader is addressed directly, or an entry is written in the first person, and the stuttering nature of the book stemming from its series of incredibly short bulletins, makes a kind of sense. Indeed, the reader becomes more able to appreciate the humour and pathos of the book's concerns.
Its impact comes from the relationship between the aquired meanings of his words and the consequently alien landscape that they portray, and their conventional meanings which seem to denote some horrible family tragedy, possibly revolving around the narrator's brother, Jason Marcus.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing 21 July 2007
The use of constraint and utter economy to produce intense feelings of sadness, triumph, awe and love in the reader. One of the best books I've ever read, so there...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nice try 22 April 2012
Don't get me wrong - the American avant garde is a wonderful thing; I'm just not sure these verbal constructs (to call them prose poems would be to do them too much honour) cut the mustard. They get a sympathetic hearing from agoraphobic Donkeye on US Amazon - but he hasn't posted a review since November 2002. Sci-po? (rather than scifi?)
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I stumbled upon this book whilst rummaging through the back street shops in Richmond. The title struck me first as strange, although after a quick flick through before purchase I became aware that this was not the strangest thing about this book. Ben Marcus plunges you into an intricate description of society through the eyes of an almost clinical observer. Although the emotion drips from the page interspersed with random punctuation, the tone remains cold and detatched, something that keeps you alert to the images he is portraying. He never allows the reader to become too involved in the effect of the words, this allows a liberating and quite unique read. I found the book useful for inspiration. As a theatre director I often need to verbalise the images I have in my head, which are quite often as bizzare as Mr Marcus'. His form and language, although almost alien, commuincated more than conventional prose, it was magical. Ben Marcus has created his own language, his purpose - to create an image of society in the future - although this is never stated in the book. He leaves the interpretation of this book up to the reader. This is only my reading others will find new and exciting versions when they read this book. In that sense the work becomes like theatre. No two readings will be the same. I recommend this book to anyone looking for words, looking for a way to communicate ideas and passions that they feel restrained by. Go forth and be inspired!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Insane 25 Jun 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book kind of reads like someone with a severe mental illness attempting to communicate their delusions in a completely lucid manner. It has its own logic which carries it along, there is nothing else out there really like this book to which you can reference it. This of itself would make the work interesting and noteworthy. The fact that such a strange, avant-garde piece is written with painstaking precision and moments of dreadful, odd beauty make it a compelling masterpiece.
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