Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: Notable American Women – Ben Marcus

Notable American Women – Ben Marcus

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 backyard, 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.

Review: I saw this book on a list of experimental novels, and the premise immediately got my attention: The main character (also named Ben Marcus) is living on a farm that has been taken over by a group of women who are trying to stay completely still and silent. The women imprison Ben’s meddling father in an underground cell and use Ben and his sister for strange behavior-altering experiments. The women speak in an all-vowel language, ride around on sleds to avoid walking, faint voluntarily, and brew water.

Since I found this book on a list of experimental literature, I knew that it would be avant-garde. And, it certainly is. It doesn’t read like a traditional novel. There is no plot. The “chapters” are a series of loosely connected scenes, letters, contracts, names, fictional history lessons, and other oddities. Nothing is explained. The reader just has to go along with the surreal weirdness.

The writing and world-building are the best parts of the book. Like the synopsis says, the author truly does invent new uses for words. The writing is refreshing and unlike anything I’ve read in a long time. It’s engrossing. The reader can easily picture the bizarre, frightening, and hilarious practices of the silent women. The book has a few literal laugh-out-loud moments. It catches you off-guard at times.

Even though Notable American Women intrigued me enough that I read the whole thing, I didn’t actually enjoy it. Getting through it required a lot of effort on my part. I had to force myself to pick it up and keep reading. Some of the chapters are too long, and I got bored with them. I was also confused a lot in the beginning. Actually, I’m still confused. I can’t claim that I fully understand this book. I have the feeling that I’m just not smart enough for it. Maybe the author is laughing at my stupidity right now . . .  


  1. Sounds like a really different kind of book. But I am not sure I would be smart enough for it either!!! Great review!

    1. It’s a very weird book, and it definitely made me feel stupid. :)

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  2. I SO need More Happy Than Not right now!
    Missie @ A Flurry of Ponderings