Infinite Jest – A Third Attempt

OK, so… Infinite Jest is going to drive me into the ground.

I first tried reading it as an e-book approximately eighteen months ago.  I managed to get about sixty pages in (much less in the e-book version) and gave up.  I made it through a section where a man was waiting for his drugs, where his paranoia was so intense that it started affecting me.  I put the book down and never got back to it.

I tried a second time with a library copy about six months ago, when my family went out of town.  I made it slightly further (I had assumed it was close to two hunnerd and fitty pages, but upon looking at my new copy I think it was about a hundred and fifty pages in) and then got distracted by… well, video games, John Sayles’ A Moment in the Sun (another heavy-hitter that I didn’t complete), and sleeping.  Lots of sleeping.

Now, I’ve set myself a daily goal.  Between today (4/23) and the last day of May (5/31), I plan to read thirty to fifty pages a day.  At that rate, I’ll be able to finish in somewhere between twenty-eight and thirty-two days, have enough room to not read a day, or read more per day… but without driving myself up a wall trying to finish the novel.

As I stated in a previous post, I was going to take the novel one-hundred pages at a time, for blogging purposes.  I think that will still be a good idea.  I’m going to keep the computer nearby when I read (or a notebook, I suppose) and make notes when necessary.  I’ll note characters, themes, and whatever else seems important.  In fact, I’ll probably be treating it more like an assignment than pleasure reading.  But that’s ok because… I think that works out a lot better with a book of this size and magnitude.

And, despite Dave Eggers’ assertion in his excellent introduction, the computer will also be useful in defining the multitude of terms that I can’t define myself.  Though much of the novel that I’ve read is indeed unprecedented (as stated by Eggers), there’s a lot of words that are either confusing, or just plain obtuse.

Will I finish it this time?  I’m convinced that my hipster-lit street-cred won’t allow me to look at myself in the mirror if I don’t finish it. Plus… I feel like it’s almost my duty to finish at this point… after all… if I can finish The Instructions without much issue… surely, I can finish this one…



Passages like this one will help:

“I read,” I say. “I study and read. I bet I’ve read everything you read. Don’t think I haven’t. I consume libraries. I wear out spines and ROM-drives. I do things like get in a taxi and say, “The library, and step on it.” My instincts concerning syntax and mechanics are better than your own, I can tell, with all due respect. But it transcends the mechanics. I’m not a machine. I feel and believe. I have opinions. Some of them are interesting. I could, if you’d let me, talk and talk.” 


Gods, Mister Softee, and Me – The Sugar Frosted Nutsack

The book I’ve just finished is difficult to describe.  Partly because of how it is written.  But partly also because of the title.  The full title is The Sugar Frosted Nustack.  I’ll give you a minute to take that in.

OK, still with me? Great!  Let’s dive right in!

The Sugar Frosted Nutsack
Mark Leyner
247 Pages
Little Brown & Co
March 2012

This book is, as I mentioned, difficult to describe.  For instance, the plot.  The prologue chapter, which goes for nearly forty pages, tells us that, “There was never nothing.”  After that, you get a weird, slightly convoluted story about how this particular pantheon of gods came to be, after a particularly gnarly Spring Break.

After a rather draining vacation, the gods all come back to the void and start to give it meaning.  There are many gods with many names.  XOXO, La Felina, Fast-Cooking Ali, Mogul Magoo, and Shanice, among about a half-dozen others.  In this section, we learn that the gods always live at the top of the highest man-made structure they can find (and have lived in the Sears Tower in the past, but currently reside in Dubai in a tower named Burj Khalifa.  

This section is mostly straightforward, if not a little weird (for instance, one of the gods grows his human girlfriend fifty feet tall and uses the cryogenically frozen head of Ted Williams as an anal sex today), but compared to the rest of the book, this section reads like Hop on Pop.

After we finish the prologue, The Sugar Frosted Nutsack begins in earnest.  We meet the closest thing we’ll get to a main character rather quickly.  The character?  A man named Ike Karton, whom is beloved by the gods (well, most of them) and is an unemployed butcher living in New Jersey.  Odysseus, he ain’t, but I can’t say there aren’t some strange comparisons.

But the real protagonist of the book is… well, the book.  Within the confines of the novel, there is a book, also conveniently entitled The Sugar Frosted Nutsack (or, variably The Sugar Frosted Nutsack 2: Creme de la Sack, or simply T.S.F.N.) and that book is the real star attraction.  Most of the narration is written like someone who has written an essay on The Sugar Frosted Nutsack (the fictional one, not the novel) and much of the “story” is given away in the first chapter:

Ike is an unemployed butcher, living in New Jersey with his wife and daughter.  He will go to a diner and eat a tongue sandwich.  He’ll neglect to mention a certain goddess on his top 10 T.G.I.F. (Ten Goddesses I’d Fuck) list and she will put a Mossad hit squad out on him, which will be our climax.  Or it would be if the book didn’t keep reminding us of it.

One thing to note is that the book is incredibly repetitive and recursive.  There are entire sections that are repeated ad nauseum throughout.  Some funny (for instance, “like Mothra’s fairies, except for their wasted pallors, acne, big tits, and T-shirts that read ‘I Don’t Do White Guys'” shows up often and is funny), and others that are a trying exercise to read… and re-read… and re-read.

But!  Wait just one second!  According to the narrator, The Sugar Frosted Nutsack is full of, “excruciating redundancies, heavy-handed, stilted tropes, and wearying clichés,” yes, but this is the fault of the god XOXO, who is attempting to derail the epic by making it overly repetitious.  Or overly absurd.  Or overly perverse.  Basically, all the issues one would have reading the novel are the fault of a god who keeps messing with the creation.

There’s a lot more to this book (I think) that I could go on and on for days about.  There’s some screamingly funny parts (for instance, Dick Van Dyke’s name before he got into showbiz, or the sections describing the blind monks who chant the entire epic of The Sugar Frosted Nutsack to sold-out crowds), but there’s a lot of weird parts that seem… well they appear to only be there to be weird.

The closest literary cousin I can think of to The Sugar Frosted Nutsack is House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski.  House of Leaves is, at least on the surface, a novel about a guy named Johnny Truant.  But beyond that, it is a novel about a man named Johnny who finds a book entitled House of Leaves in a bunch of things left behind by an old man.  This book describes a film (that doesn’t seem to exist) called The Five and a Half Minute Hallway.  So, in essence, a book about a book about a movie that doesn’t exist.  Lots of layers there.

So is The Sugar Frosted Nutsack a worthwhile venture?  Well… I really enjoyed a lot of it.  There’s a good amount of criticism of celebrities and reality TV stars and there are an awful lot of really, really funny parts… but… the book is a mess.  I’m sure some people would really, really like it (and I wanted to!), but in the end… I doubt I’ll be talking about this book in a couple of weeks.

However… according to the book, anything written about The Sugar Frosted Nutsack automatically becomes a part of it, so… maybe some day my words will be spliced in with the epic of Ike Karton.

8-Bit Rage – Book Edition – Ninja Gaiden

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, the Nintendo Entertainment System was on top of the world.  Nintendo’s first party offerings like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros, and a slew of excellent third-party allowed the system to remain the most dominant system of its time.

But it wasn’t enough to simply dominate the video game market.  Like any successful franchise, the original format was only the beginning.  There were multiple television shows (Captain N: The Game Master being the… erm, strongest offering from Nintendo), a breakfast cereal, and even a feature film titled The Wizard that was essentially a 90 minute commercial for the NES and its awful accessory, The Power Glove.

And then there were the books.  Mario-themed Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-Styled novels (including the one pictured below that I owned), various comic books, and my personal favorites, The Worlds of Power books.

 Now, to refer to the Worlds of Power novels as Nintendo products as they aren’t officially published, or endorsed by Nintendo, but they’re all based on NES titles that were popular at the time, including Blaster Master, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, and (my personal favorite) Ninja Gaiden.

Ninja Gaiden
A.L. Singer (pen name of Peter Lerangis)
120 Pages
Scholastic Publishing
July 1, 1990

Growing up, I was a huge Nintendo fanatic.  I still am, from time to time, but back then… I had everything.  A Mario washcloth and Nintendo branded eye-glasses are still somewhere in my room back at home (or were…), but my favorite Nintendo items were two novelizations, Blaster Master and Ninja Gaiden.

I remember stumbling upon them at a small used bookstore in a neighboring town and loving them.  Only recently did the internet tell me that there’s a whopping eight other books in the series that I desperately feel I must own.

The most important question you’ll probably have is… Why NES games?  Well… as I said above, the NES was incredibly popular and the brain behind the series of novels F.X.Nine (a pen name for marketer\author Seth Godin) wanted to encourage children (especially boys) to read more.  Thus, Worlds of Power was born.

The Ninja Gaiden game tells a fairly simple story.  Ryu Hayabusa is a ninja searching for revenge after his father is killed in a duel.  There’s more to it, but given the 8-bit limitations, all you really need to know is that Ryu constantly says, “What the ….” and we’ll leave it at that.

The game presents the story in very brief, slightly animated cutscenes, with text subtitles.  The novel, if it can be believed, makes more sense than that game, especially with the lack of the questionable translations.

In the book, as the game, our hero is Ryu Hayabusa.  At the start, Ryu is being given his final test to become a ninja.  Blindfolded, he uses his other senses to defeat his enemies.  After all, sight is only one sense, “one of six.”

What the ....

So yeah… right at the very start of the book, we have a major, major factual inaccuracy.  Is it accidental?  Could it perhaps be referring to the very basic introduction we get to chi about fifty pages hence?  I don’t know, but I can tell you… it took me right out of the book when I finally re-read it a few weeks ago.

But I digress… of course Ryu passes his test and his mother congratulates him… and cries because now he that he is a man, Ryu must go to South America to find the man who killed his father… and get revenge!

The next few chapters introduce us to characters who don’t really matter, show Ryu to be a bit of a hothead for a ninja, and also introduce us to our sub-villains… the CIA, who are interested in Ryu’s trip to the South American jungle because they believe a man named The Jaquio is attempting to end the world.  He will end the world by summoning a demon using two statues that were stolen from his years ago, by Ryu’s father.  He has reclaimed one statue and the other… is held by the CIA.

The CIA gives Ryu a copy of one of the statues (uhh… why?) and sends him in, all the while Ryu rages and tells them he won’t be going for them… he’s going… for his father.

When Ryu lands, he treks through the jungle, reaches the temple, and proceeds to battle several bosses with names like Bomberhead and Bloody Malth.  Corny for video games… really bad in a novelization of a video game.  He engages them and defeats them rather quickly and even uses items from the game to do so (in this case, an hourglass which freezes time and a ninja technique known as The Art Of The Fire Wheel… get used to The Art of The Fire Wheel… Ryu uses it approximately half-a-dozen times, even though it exhausts him each time).

After defeating the bosses, Ryu confronts The Jaquio (and yes, Jaquio is always preceded by the definite article “the”) who reveals that Ken Hayabusa was never actually killed, but has been enslaved by The Jaquio to do his bidding.  Enter the next boss fight, where father and son are finally reunited (in battle!) as The Jaquio laughs like the most annoying motherfucker in the world.

Seriously, the way he’s described in the book makes him sound like the most annoying douche to ever live.  I hated him as a kid for being such a jerk to Ryu and his dad… I hate him more now for just being plain annoying.  Gah!

To tie it all up quickly… Ryu saves his dad, kills The Jaquio, defeats the Demon (because the fake statue the CIA gave him wasn’t  a fake allowing The Jaquio to complete the summoning… what the ….), and escapes… losing his father in the process.

As he stands on the hill near the temple, watching it fall… Ryu is joined by the sexy CIA agent who drugged him earlier (and who refuses to kill him, disobeying a direct order) and they sniffle a bit after Ryu reveals that he’s lost his father all over again…  except that Daddy lives!  Hurrah!

Yeah so… I’m being overly critical because the book really isn’t terrible.  For a children’s novel, the book tells a good story, and it keeps the action flowing.  It also gives decent lessons on how to stand up for yourself, the importance of family, and why one should persevere through difficult trials.

At the same time, it is often bogged down in keeping too closely to the plot\levels of the game that it is based on… but it also diverges from the game’s plot to give us a supremely sappy ending where father and son are finally reunited after the final defeat of The Jaquio…

Still, if you come across any of the books in the World of Power series… you could do much worse.  The books I’ve read are exciting, fun, and based on video game properties that… well, mostly have continued into the current generation of video game consoles.  But that doesn’t matter.  They’re fun, brainless, and quick enough to read in a couple sittings.  Dig ’em!

Ant-Warriors and Alcohol – Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making The Biggest Mistake Of Your Life

This post may well be shorter than the title of the book I’m writing about.

The book in question today is titled Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making The Biggest Mistake Of Your Life, written anonymously and published right here… in Portland, Oregon.  Hurrah for the independent press and hurrah for authors who aren’t afraid to tackle big issues with weird interruptions of science fiction.

Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making The Biggest Mistake Of Your Life
Anonymous (Illus. Sarah Miller)

116 Pages
Perfect Day Publishing
November 2011 (Second Printing)

Obviously, from the cover, we’re going with a Choose Your Own Adventure style.  And even the book’s layout gives you choices (If You Do This, Turn To This Date, etc.), but the book warns you that it isn’t meant to be read that way.  So why have the whole thing set up to look like a Choose Your Own Adventure?

The most obvious (or perhaps too obvious) reason would be to show that there’s always a choice… even when there isn’t.  After all, the entirety of the plot is a story about how you got into this crazy relationship with an alcoholic named Anne… that you just can’t seem to extract yourself from (yes, like the Choose Your Own books, this is in a second-person narrative).  You have the choice to just leave it all behind, but you can’t.

Instead of ending it, you make other decisions and the relationship continues.  So, even though you’re presented with choices (you the narrator, not you the reader), the only real choice is to stick with it, because (as the narrator states), “you realize there was no possible outcome besides the one in front of you now.”

OK, this is confusing.  From here on out, “you” the character is just going to be referred to as the narrator.  Razza frazza second-person narratives…

Despite the seriousness of the narrative, there are a lot of funny moments interspersed throughout.  The narrator questioning if Anne may have been created as part of the Weapon X program, the narrator celebrating Anne’s first time completing Super Mario World, constantly saying, “You have a bad feeling about this,” and the long stream of fuck that follows the discovery of Anne’s pregnancy (120 if I counted correctly), all very funny moments that provide much-needed levity once you realize the narrator won’t be getting out of the self-destructive relationship.

Plus many of the references are super-nerdy and… well I’m also super-nerdy and really appreciate them.

The science fiction elements are mostly presented through choices and accompanying illustrations, but the choices almost always parallel a choice the narrator has to make in the story.  For instance, on the page dated October 20, 2004, the narrator questions his love for Anne, and wonders if he can put up with her unmedicated.  The corresponding “choices” at the bottom of the page are to pull the Ant-Warrior up from the ledge, or to let him fall to his death.

The truly ingenious part of this, though, is that the pages it redirects you to are earlier arguments and fights the narrator had with Anne, which shows the cyclical nature of his fucked up relationship.  In the end, the reader must choose to just keep reading, and watch the narrator dig himself in even deeper in a truly distressing relationship.

At the very end, the narrator has a break in his sanity and the science fiction world of Ant-Warriors, laser pistols, and nutrient pools becomes the real world for him… and it’s probably the saddest moment in the novel because you see the narrator retreating into a fantasy world to escape his troubles… not terribly unlike Anne’s retreat into alcohol.

And there the book ends… Despite the serious subject matter, the author is able to give moments of humor that temper the darkness that would otherwise envelop and swallow any normal reader.  The references to pop culture are numerous (and geeky… a Gremlins reference? wow…), but aren’t overbearing in any way.

The narrator has an ironic, detached tone through the early part of the book that eventually gives way to anger, sadness, and frustration in such a heart-breaking manner that you want to scream at him to just get out.

But does he?  How does the relationship end?  You’ll have to buy the book to find out.  Copies are available at Powell’s, Reading Frenzy, and at the  Perfect Day Publishing website.  Skip a cup of coffee and dig into one of the best indie published books of the last year!

The House With A Clock In Its Walls – John Bellairs, Gothic Horror, and Magic

When I was but a young’n, I found a book at my local library (The Stockbridge Library, which still stands where I visited it several times a week, at the corner of Main St and Elm St).  The book would go on to change my reading habits for years.  The book?  The House With A Clock In Its Walls.

To this day, I can’t be certain what made me choose that particular book.  The cover, which I’ve provided below, is very obviously a horror cover.  But I did pick it up.  I can’t say for certain how fast I read it that first time, but I do know that I re-read the novel countless times.  Why?  Well, I just re-read the book for the first time in more than a decade to try to find out.

The Creepy Cover

The House With A Clock In Its Walls
John Bellairs (illus. Edward Gorey)
179 Pages
June 1973

First, a note:  normally I try to give the publisher’s information to help people track down the first editions… in this case… well, it’s a bit muddled.  The book was first published in 1973 by Yearling… erm, I think.  Or Dell.  Which I think is the same company.  But since publication, the book has been published by more than half-a-dozen publishers so… this is as close as I can get.  Mea culpa.

As I said above, The House With A Clock In Its Walls was a bit of a watershed moment in my childhood reading.  It led to my interest in horror for almost eight years… The Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark collections, Wait ’til Helen Comes (super-creepy, super-good!), the Goosebumps series, Fear Street, and just about anything else John Bellairs I could get my hands on.

But the first one is still my favorite and still, in this man’s opinion, the best.  The House With A Clock In Its Walls was one of Bellairs’ earliest novels and it was his first written for children.  It stars (somewhat) lovable Lewis Barnavelt, a chubby book-worm who is more at home in a library than on a baseball field.

Lewis has been tragically orphaned when his parents were in a car wreck and is on his way to live with his uncle Johnathan, who owns a large house in the far-away town of New Zebedee, Michigan.  Little does Lewis know that his uncle, somewhat imposing with his large stature, rotund belly, and messy, bright red hair and beard, is a magician.  His uncle’s magical abilities make for a very interesting year for young Lewis.

At the beginning of our story, Lewis is nervous, extremely prone to crying, and scared of his own shadow.  The first thing his uncle does after Lewis gets off the bus is stare vacantly at the town’s clock tower as it strikes the hour.  Is something wrong with his uncle?  Has Lewis been sent to live with his crazier of relatives?

Despite the strange introduction, Lewis finds he really does enjoy the company of his uncle.  Lewis plays cards with Johnathan and his uncle’s next-door neighbor, Mrs Zimmerman and, as he spends time with them, notices little oddities.

For instance, he wins more often at cards than he ever has before.  There’s a certain window of the house at 100 High Street that displays different stained-glass designs, depending on when Lewis passes it.  And his uncle’s coat-rack has a glass ball in it that shows the pyramids at Chichen Itza… but the birds in the sky fly from tree to tree.

So one night, Johnathan and Mrs Zimmerman sit Lewis down and explain to him about their dalliances in magic.  Johnathon is a wizard (though he claims to only know a few parlor tricks) and Mrs Zimmerman is  a witch (and the proud holder of a Doctor Magicorum Artium, which makes Johnathan often defer to her on magical matters, as he only has a degree in Agriculture).  They also explain to Lewis about the mysterious ticking that can be heard from any room in the house and the man who owned the house before Johnathan.

The previous owner of the house, one Isaac Izard, was a very powerful warlock, and very evil to boot.  He and his wife were both supposedly very powerful magicians who were attempting to bring about the end of the world.  Why?  Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out!

As I read the book again, I quickly rediscovered why I liked it so much as a child.  Bellairs’ language is very descriptive, especially when talking about landmarks in the town, or the inner rooms of the house, without being convoluted, or flowery.

The emotions the characters feel flow out of the book and I felt them very deeply.  Lewis’ guilt at casting a magic spell is palpable, as is the anger felt by Johnathan as the story builds to its conclusion.

At times, the anxiety Lewis feels is thick and difficult to get through because Bellairs writes it with such conviction.  Lewis’ emotions are so believable that it makes his later attempts to make up for his rash behavior that much more wonderful.  His development as a character in this novel (and into the other Barnavelt novels) is stellar because of how natural it feels.

And the book doesn’t skimp on the horror.  The novel would be scary enough without the illustrations, but Edward Gorey’s creepy illustrations add another level to the horror elements of the novel, and also provided a younger me (who often had difficulty imagining what book characters looked like) with a good idea of who the characters were.

Before he passed away in 1991, John Bellairs wrote eighteen novels.  After his death, an additional four novels were completed with the assistance of a ghost writer named Brad Stickland, who has continued writing Lewis Barnavelt (and Johnny Dixon) novels as recently as 2008.

Bellairs was such a strong influence on my childhood that I often spent my summer days hunting around Stockbridge, Massachusetts looking for dark things that I knew were just below the surface.  I biked all around trying to find weird looking houses and searched wooded areas all over for caves, sink-holes, or other places that would most certainly transport me to another world.

I even wrote one of my first stories as a tribute to\major rip off of The House With A Clock In Its Walls.  And I certainly didn’t look at the mausoleums in the cemetery the same way ever again…  So to say that I’ve really enjoyed his work would be a bit of an understatement.

Despite Bellairs’ relative productivity as an author, many of his books have fallen out of print and can be difficult to find at local retailers.  Barnes and Noble republished the three Lewis Barnavelt stories that Bellairs wrote in his lifetime (as well as a collection of three of the Johnny Dixon stories that are also well worth reading) and most of his books remain available online, especially through used sellers.

If you’ve ever had an interest in imaginative children’s literature (especially the more macabre styles), please check his works out.  He deserves to be remembered as a spinner of fantastic tales for generations!

Language As A Virus – The Flame Alphabet

In his 1962 novel The Ticket That Exploded William Burroughs posited that language was a virus. An infection that came to us from space and infected the planet. Of course, he was referring to the spread of language being like a disease, not it actually having the ability to make people ill.

Of course, someone had to come along to take it to the next level. That someone was Ben Marcus, with his odd, hard-to-describe novel The Flame Alphabet.

The Flame Alphabet
Ben Marcus
289 Pages
Alfred A Knopf
January 20, 2012 

Welcome back to Books and Bits!  I hope you enjoyed Neil Gaiman month as much as I did.  I’m hoping to have a bit less of a structured theme this month…  Poetry Month, Small Press Month (well Small Press Month and Women’s History Month is March, but… Neil Gaiman won that battle, sorry!  Take faith in the fact that I wrote most of the posts for this month last month) soooo…  Yeah,  April is the cruelest, busiest month.  And we’re starting off with a tough, tough book… The Flame Alphabet!

The basics of the plot of the novel are this:  sometime in the not too distant future, the language of children and adolescents becomes toxic.  Adults start feeling the effects slowly, like the flu.  Nausea, headaches, fever… but then it gets worse.  Sudden weight and hair loss, skin lesions, and partial-to-full loss of control of gross motor function.

It starts in a small community of Jewish people, but not your ordinary practitioners of the Jewish faith.  This sect, known through the novel as Forrest Jews (and several, worse things), go out to secluded huts and attach a device called a Listener to a group of wires to receive their sermon on a weekly basis.  This sermon is delivered in secret (and the sect itself is shrouded in secrecy), but a man named LeBov is convinced that these transmissions are the clue needed to unlock the mystery of deadly language.

Our main character, Sam, is married to a woman named Claire, and they have a teenaged daughter named Esther… and if I can get this out of the way… Esther is a completely self-centered, evil little bitch who should have been hit with a bus (or an airplane, I’m not picky) within the first couple chapters of the book.  Of course… this makes her an average teenager.  However, instead of mere emotional damage, her words can physically hurt her parents as well.

So…  this book is weird.  Let’s just put that on the table.  It reads like some sort of cross-breeding of Kurt Vonnegut’s and William Burroughs’ strange alternate-futures combined with the dense, visceral quality of a Thomas Pynchon novel (which I’ll admit I’ve never finished, but… some day!).  Oh and throw in a little bit of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for good measure.  A spritzing of the overwhelming depression that one gets from McCarthy would fit well

I’ll tell you now that this isn’t a book you read to get answers.  Why is language toxic?  Who is LeBov, really?  What are his motivations, really?  These questions, and more, and never answered with any direct certainty in the text.  And that can make it rather frustrating.

Similarly, the text is dense, like trying to hack through a rainforest.  There’s quality writing that hits this weird combination of sad, funny, and frightening (often in the same sentence), but there is little dialogue to break up the sometimes monotonous descriptions of the effects Esther’s voice is having on her parents.

But be warned… there is a monotony and a near-impregnable loop in the early chapters of the book.  Diligent readers will be rewarded.  My advice?  Read it a chapter or two at a time.  Take a day or two off, breeze through another novel while this one waits.  It’ll still be there.  That’s what I did, anyhow.

Still, in the second part, the book jumps into a more interesting frame of mind…  Sam has escaped, alone, from his home and arrived as the Forsythe Institute in Rochester, New York.  There, he has been recruited to help LeBov (a LeBov?  the Lebov? who the hell knows…) to get to the bottom of the language virus, mainly through use of the written word (which has now begun to have the same effect as speech, naturally).

There’s more I haven’t touched upon, plotwise.  Mostly dealing with the messy third part that serves as our ending.  Great ending.  Really, really wonderful.  Well, not wonderful.  More like… horrible.  But well done, just the same.  Not every author is willing to leave the reader hanging, with little to no answers (though some thankfully are… see House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski or the chilling novel Remainder by Tom McCarthy to really frustrate your inner need for answers).

But the book ends without giving the reader anything.  Many would find this frustrating.  I know I do.  But at the same time… I can’t help but be drawn into Sam’s world.  Maddening, nonsensical, and confusing without end… but the story is satisfying in a weird way that I can’t quite put into words.  Marcus is unafraid to challenge the reader into imagining the finer details of the story.  He is instead content to let the reader hang kicking from the gallows of his novel, trying to squeeze out some meaning before blacking out completely.

Wow that was a really shitty metaphor.  I apologize for that.  But in truth, I often found myself digging into a phrase, or a sentence that I’m fairly certain now had no meaning to the story.  Or if it did, it was so far buried in metaphor and allegory that I missed it.

The Flame Alphabet is not for everyone.  It will challenge you, frustrate you, and confuse the hell out of you.  It is unapologetic for this and thankfully so.  One of the strangest, strangely satisfying novels I’ve ever struggled to finish.  Check it out… if you dare.