Ngeles Valicenti Valicenti itibaren 40447 Nieva, Segovia, İspanya
What follows is a review I wrote on June 13th, 2003 for the book Notable American Women by the author Ben Marcus. It was written for a consumer review website, and that website had some standards for how a review should be written, and I followed them at the time. You'll notice an absence of fucks, they didn't allow cursing, and if there was cursing it had to be censored. I don't think there are any fucks in this review, so you won't see any F***'s, I don't think. I just skimmed through the review, I might have missed a censored fuck or shit. But I'm not writing this prologue to worry about the absence of the foul language I'm sure you've come to love in my 'reviews', instead I feel like this review needs some kind of explanation, but it's an explanation I can't give. Memory is a funny thing. I'd swear by my memory. I'd get into an argument with someone who says something happened that I have a memory of happening differently and I'd be sure I was right. If we know anything it's what we remember, right? My memory of this book is that I didn't enjoy it. I don't remember much about the book, but there is a definite feeling of This is something I didn't like. The truth (apparently, if something like this can even be called a truth) is that I did like the novel. I gave it four stars immediately after reading it. I'd consider this to be suspect if I didn't look at other reviews I'd written at the time and seen that I was in the habit of giving books low numbers of stars and panning them when I didn't like them. I had no reason to like Ben Marcus, there was no peer pressure to like or not like the book. And in the internal feedback / feel good system the other website had, I'd already learned that I generally got more nods of approval by writing scathing reviews where I could really let loose a barrage of venom than I would get for my more tepid style when writing about something I enjoyed. So what the fuck? What is wrong with my memory? What happened in the years between reading this novel and whatever date it was that I went and slapped two stars on the book here on goodreads? I can remember someone telling me they were going to read this back in like 2006 or so and me telling them I didn't like the novel. If that memory can be trusted then my (false)memory of I don't like this novel can be traced back to at least within three years of when I first encountered the novel. What happened? Why is my memory so different from what I guess is my actual experience. And what is the actual experience, did I like the book or didn't I? I mean, yeah it looks like I did by this review, but then my feelings on this book are pretty strongly, not-enjoyable. What is true here? How many other books are like this? There is actually one other that I know of. I have similar feelings for Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq. This one was even read in the more recent time since I've been on Goodreads, and I gave it four stars but my memory of this book is, not-enjoyable / sucks / no more Houellebecq for me thank you. What is true here? How many other books are like this? Have I possibly never not-enjoyed a book in my life? Doubtful. Was I molested by Ben Marcus at some point between June, 2003 and 2006 that made me dislike his book but traumatized me to forgetting the awful thing he did to me? Doubtful, but who knows. Is it just something related to the slipshod mechanics that make up memory? Possibly. I'm a little concerned about this, I mean what is real? Is my whole past a simulacra of my fragile memory that might have little to do with reality but more to do with something I have no idea about? How much else is just wrong that I think I remember? With that preamble, here is the original review. I am generally no strong advocate of breathing. I do not appreciate the labor behind it, the gruesome inflation of the chest, how it fattens a man’s face and advertises his hunger. Something as necessary and regular as breathing should not require such shameful heaving, such greedy shapes of the mouth. There is no civil, polite way to do it without embarrassing oneself. I prefer to hold my breath when I can, to feel warmth spread through my face as my emotional fire stifles inside me without any air to feed it. As much as one inhales even the best of mountain air, the supposedly healthy, rich oxygen of the country side, every breath produces a small disappointment, fails to soothe one’s inner body. This passage comes on page 155, of the 243 pages that make up Ben Marcus’s strange novel, Notable American Women. As a paragraph from the book it’s as good as any to give you idea of what to expect from the book. The basic plot (term used very loosely) is the narrator Ben Marcus lives on a farm in Ohio that has been taken over by a radical women’s group attempting to achieve complete stillness and silence. To reach this goal a whole series of behavior modifications are practiced, from prolonged fasting, voluntarily induced fainting and physically restraining one self to purge the body of movement. The groups leader is a women named Julia Dark, a silent and charismatic behavioral engineer who as a teenager learned the devastating effects that certain female all-vowel sounds and expressive pantomime gestures can produce. Does this all sound confusing? Yeah it does to me to and I’ve read the book. What is impressive that amongst all of the improbable actions, Marcus has succeeded in creating a rich world in a slim volume that makes everything seem very probable. The structure of the novel makes the work even more confusing though. There is little coherent narrative to the book. The novel opens with a twenty-page letter from Ben Marcus’s (narrator) father. Michael Marcus writing from where he is buried in the backyard structures the letter as a long accusatory attack on the weakness of his son. It reads like the letter you could imagine the father from Franz Kafka’s The Judgment composing as he lies in wait to pass a sentence of death on his ineffectual son. The letter’s an accusation against all sons as failing to live up to their father and lapses into god like delusions of greatness. The irony of course being that he is writing this from a living grave in the backyard, put there by a group of silent women and instead of being omnipotent is quite impotent. The next three sections of the book are split between five subsections each. The first gives some episodic narrative. After the narrative in each section we are given two subsection of what reads like an instruction manuals for how the group of women go about their lives. The reader is given a general blue print, how to feint, how to fast, what the contract one signs to enter into a stillness group voluntarily among other details about the group. One of these subsections breaks from the others and contains instructions of how to read the book. This subsection by itself is worth checking out this book. It’s absurd, self-deprecating and totally hilarious (much of the novel is though). The final two subsections of each section give a list of dates important in this alternate women’s history, and lists of Women names and their behavioral qualities. (Since a persons name in Marcus’s world make us who we are. All Mary’s for example will have certain traits, unless of course if there are too many Mary’s in a particular region, in which case the name becomes diluted.) The book ends with a forty-page letter from Ben Marcus’s mother to his father, and helps to solidify the novel. Comments If you take the term ‘novel’ literally then Notable American Women is a novel. The book is very unique, and stretches the form of the book in interesting ways. Marcus plays with the language so skillfully that he is able to empty our everyday language of it’s connotations and infuses the words with new meanings. It’s brilliant the way he plays with the language. The book most reminds me of the worlds that David Foster Wallace brings to the reader; surreal places that take the real world and tweak it just enough to render it horrifying and new. I can’t say that I completely understood the book, and in this review I wouldn’t even try to figure out exactly what the novels about. I think it’s best for the reader to go into this novel relatively blind and make their own impressions of the unique project Marcus embarks on. Fans of DFW, Thomas Pynchon, John Barth and Dave Eggers will probably get a literary kick out of this work. If you are looking for a straightforward narrative with a clear cut beginning, middle and end this probably isn’t for you. If you are like me and sometimes enjoy seeing what talent writers can do with the structure of the novel when they stretch it in new ways than get this book right now.
I liked it for modern social psychology, but not on board with its world-view.