Sam Lipsyte recommends a chilling new novel about words that kill

The premise of Ben Marcus’s powerful and unnerving new novel, The Flame Alphabet, might sound strange to some, but probably not to any parent of a minor.

In Marcus’s dystopia, it’s not neutron bombs or tidal waves that devastate, but language—specifically the suddenly toxic verbal spillage of children. Parents, desperately sick, must abandon their homes and seek refuge from this spawn-borne plague. (Some begin to blame the Jews, and the Jewish narrator, Sam, seeks answers from some outlier scientists and the strange Judaic transmissions he receives in a forest hut.) The irony of this novel is that Marcus, one of our most gifted writers, employs such charged and invigorating prose to tell his story about speech that kills. The result is an authentically frightening, funny, and profound book.

—Sam Lipsyte is the author of The Ask, Home Land, The Subject Steve, and Venus Drive.

This post is from Observer Short List—an email of three favorite things from people you want to know. Sign up to receive OSL here.

Sam Lipsyte recommends a chilling new novel about words that kill