Ben Marcus has been everywhere recently. The other day, I heard him on NPR talking about his intriguing new book The Flame Alphabet. Here is the novel's concept in one sentence from the publisher: "A terrible epidemic has struck the country and the sound of children’s speech has become lethal."
Marcus' interview reminded me of one of my 2011 favorites, The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta. So of course I placed a hold immediately. I got Berwyn's copy today. I have to say, as cool as the book sounds, it really has a pretty awful cover. Seriously, how does this lame and bright cover help sell this quirky and dark book.
But that is an aside. You can read my post on the importance of covers in helping readers here.
So, I was already enamored with Marcus when this essay he wrote for The Wall Street Journal caught my eye. Entitled "Strong Emotions, Delivered by Stealth," the writing professor side of Marcus explains how the best authors are able to get us to care so much about a fictional character that we are moved to actual emotions. This is an essay about how to write fiction but it is not written for authors, it is written for us readers.
It made me recall specific books or scenes that have really moved me. For example, I will never forget how the end of Cold Mountain did more than just bring a tear to my eye, it literally had me sobbing, and I am not the sobbing at a book type, more just the teary eyed type. I also recall leading a book discussion of Atonement during which a participant was so physically angry at the main character, Briony Tallis, that she stood up and started pointing and yelling at another group member who was defending the fictional character.
Actually, come to think of it, this behavior was not that unique. I have led many a book discussion like this in which I have had to verbally remind the group to stop getting so worked up about the behavior of a specific character in a novel. Yes, I have had to remind people many times that "these are not real people." But I also then direct the group to the point that the author must be doing a great job if we feel this strongly about a fake person.
So anyone who has ever cried at the end of a book or wanted to sucker punch a character, read Marcus' essay. I'll come back to Marcus the novelist in a few weeks with a review of The Flame Alphabet.
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