cover image Leaving the Sea

Leaving the Sea

Ben Marcus. Knopf, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-307-37938-2

The second collection from Marcus (The Flame Alphabet) is a peculiar, funny, original analysis of the human psyche and modern language. Split into six parts, the volume fluctuates between traditional narrative (the opener, “What Have You Done?,” acts as a “stranger in a strange land” tale: a man reluctantly visits his family, only to learn his present self cannot erase memories of his younger, wilder past) and more experimental fare (the title story, for example, unspools in one breathless, exhilarating sentence). Communication is important to the author, and throughout, characters employ unusual linguistic skills, renaming common tasks (sex becomes “lust applications”) and speaking about common phrases as if they are alien (“These changes in temperatures were called moods and they had interesting foreign names, but I no longer recall them,” the narrator in “First Love” muses). The protagonists of most of the stories are men, and often their conflicts are flared by worried, overactive imaginations. “The Moors” plots the increasingly elaborate digressions of a man as he trails a coworker to an office coffee machine, spiraling a mundane experience into a psychological death march, while “Watching Mysteries with My Mother” and “The Loyalty Protocol” parse the responsibilities of caring for aging parents. A very strong collection. Agent: Denise Shannon, Denise Shannon Literary Agency. (Jan. 8)