The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets
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The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets

3.29 of 5 stars 3.29  ·  rating details  ·  365 ratings  ·  89 reviews
An extraordinary debut novel that challenges the definition of family and explores the intricate ties that bind us together

Ida grew up with Jackson and James—where there was “I” there was a “J.” She can’t recall a time when she didn’t have them around, whether in their early days camping out in the boys’ room decorated with circus scenes or later drinking on rooftops as te...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published September 11th 2012 by Other Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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oriana
Wow. Beautiful and spooky and beautiful and bleak and sad.

This, like so many books I read these days, was found on the curb; I knew when I saw it that I'd hear of it somewhere, but I'm unsure where. Good grief, I am so lucky to live somewhere where amazing books practically grow out of cracks in the sidewalk.

This is a pretty incredibly, and incredibly immersive, story of a girl and the two brothers she lives next door to and has loved and been loved by for her entire life. It's a story of disso...more
Grace Hobbs
Didn't love this. I picked it up after seeing it in the top ad banner at The Rumpus half a million times; didn't know quite what to expect but the blurb sounded intriguing. There are two main problems for me: first, that the book is too writerly - almost too much attention is paid to the construction of beautiful sentences, which tend to be beautiful individually but fall flat when taken in context - the cadences don't vary enough, there's a lot of descriptive listing that just isn't necessary....more
Lydia Presley
The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is a debut novel for Kathleen Alcott - but you wouldn't know it from her writing. This is a complex story about three people: Ida, Jackson, and James. Jackson and James are brothers, and Ida the young girl who grew up with them. The three form a bond as close as family - cemented by mutual loss. They have each lost one parent.

With stark, beautiful language, Alcott puts this story out there, weaving between time successfully. I say she was successful because I wa...more
Lisa
I picked this up at the bookstore, never having heard of it, because I absolutely fell in love with the title. If there were a star rating system for titles, this book would get at least five stars from me.

I did enjoy this book. The writing is lovely, an excellent representation of current narration style. The book takes place in Petaluma and San Francisco, and the familiarity of the setting is comfortable.

Where I found it lacking was in two aspects that seem to come up all too often in modern n...more
Lori
from BEA12

Read 8/3/12 - 8/14/12
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to readers who like their fictitious families shaken, not stirred
Pgs: 242
Publisher: Other Press
Release Date: Sept 2012

"Family" is a complicated concept. By definition, we are told a family is a group of people who live together; people of common ancestry; people united by certain convictions; a unit of crime syndicate operating under one geographical area (I'm throwing this one in for fun!)

It's no wonder, then, that the characters we...more
Lisa
I hate it when people level the "MFA" or "workshoppy" accusation at a book... I mean I know what they're talking about, but it seems like that's one of those pejorative terms they toss around to make whatever point about literary fiction they need. That said, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets did feel vaguely... I don't know, creative-writing-y. Which is to say it seemed more like an artful parable than a storyline with a plot. And that's fine, actually. It was well written and explored some goo...more
Danielle
Ida grew up next door to James and Jackson. Their lives were intertwined from the very beginning. Jackson and Ida begin a relationship at an early age with James looking on from the sidelines. Their relationship however is not a healthy one and it eventually results in a break of all their friendships, that Ida desperately wants to put back together.

I found this book largely forgettable, as I'm having trouble remembering what it was about to write this review. I found the relationship dynamics...more
Jesse
On a sentence level, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is a beautiful read. Alcott does a fantastic job spinning phrases and creating unique syntaxes, especially in Ida’s character. The descriptions of place are beautiful and organic, and seem to grow within the narrative as place begins to take on a larger role in the story.

The novel loses me on a character level. Ida is an unsympathetic narrator and a flat read. She seems an amalgamation of character tropes (spunky girl next door who isn’t afr...more
Elly
The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is a story about love between childhood friends that counted themselves as brother and sister. It's very dark, very sad but also very beautiful. The language is really well done; its prose is pleading in some ways, it begs you to remember as Ida remembers even though she fears inheriting the "never being able to forget" curse that her father had. At just about 200 pages, it doesn't take much time at all to finish and when I was reading it I could not put it down...more
Melinda Elizabeth
The beginning sets you up for an interesting read, lovers from the start who follow each other through thick and thin, but thats just it, there's more thin in this book than anything else plot wise and you sit there waiting for something to happen and eventually, nothing much of anything goes on.

Ida is a little annoying, fairly needy and not very conscious of others around her. Jackson and James, for most of the novel, tend to blend into each other and I was constantly trying to remember which...more
Sharon
A long lovely sad poem about a love story, but more about a family - one part born, part made, part destroyed. Quietly shows a great deal of passive destruction that ripple out from one man's departure into the next generation, leading to another departure, and deeper pain. Yet not a melodramatic book, and not a book that overexplains or even redeems - and this willingness to let the ugly be ugly is comforting and beautiful in a dark honest way.

(Side note: it was odd to read a book in which sle...more
Rebekah
I found the author, er, narrator, to be boring and self-absorbed, and the love of her life, who is supposedly so fascinating and important to warrant a book, to be very one-dimensional. The only character who didn't make me want to roll my eyes at every page was the brother James, and I wonder why he wasn't the one she became obsessed with (I mean, it is all totally autobiographical, right?). Still, I must have been in the mood for an overwritten self-indulgent style-above-substance page-turner,...more
Jeb
Alcott writes like Terrence Malick directs. Images flicker past, building up layers of impressionistic moments, dreams and waking meld into a single consciousness.

Not that DOPA doesn't provide passages of clear-eyed prose. The beauty of Ida's telling of her parents' courtship is a highlight.

But it's in the dreamy and ethereal telling of Ida's own relationships and personal losses that really drive this book.
David
The emotion that this book evoked absolutely stunned me. I felt an ache the entire time I was reading that was both terrible and wonderful. The intensity and necessity of the intimacy Alcot creates between the characters, the way that things go wrong and change...it is just so wonderfully done. This book moved me, and that's really all I should say.
Patricia Geller
Not perfect. Wanted to understand the characters more but the writing was lyrical and poetic. Parts took my breathe away and in other places I felt irritate and wanted more. Read it for the poetry of her writing.
Timothy Faust
Not a single goddamn word wasted.
Henry
There were times when I enjoyed this book, and thought I'd be able to give it a higher rating, but by the time it was over, I was more than ready to put it down.

The only part of the story that was remotely interesting occurred during the third quarter of the book, when things actually started happening in San Francisco. But for most of the book, I felt like I was reading about the day to day activities of characters that I really could care less about.

Also, there were a few snarky comments about...more
Wendy
Disenchanted and creative, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is a surreal and thought provoking debut.

Ida, Jackson and James. Together since before memory, they make a patchwork family whose lives flow and ebb like a body of water. Ida tells their story of childhood friendship, familial love and adult complications. Jackson suffers from somnambulism which becomes the catalyst for heartbreak.

This was a really unique book. I have never read a novel where a character, in this case Jackson, suffers...more
Larry Hoffer
I'd rate this 4.5 stars...

breathless action sequences, and/or memorable characters. Other books simply dazzle you with the power and beauty of their narrative, of the authors' ability to weave a story. While the ideal book combines all of these characteristics, sometimes a book is so strong in one category that it doesn't matter that it might fall a little short in others.

Such a book is Kathleen Alcott's debut novel, The Danger of Proximal Alphabets. I was absolutely blown away by Alcott's writi...more
Lolly LKH
Here is why I didn't give more stars- I hated Ida or "I". I thought she was obnoxious. While the obsessive love between Jackson and Ida started out sweet, and Jackson is such an interestingly flawed character, I couldn't say Ida was worth loving. I was also bothered by the fact James takes the fall for Jackson and somehow all of that is just water under the bridge- really? Really? Not realistic.
I could love this novel, because the childhood was written of beautifully and the writer expressed th...more
April
I love to read, and I have a fairly large vocabulary. I had to look up quite a few words as I was reading this, and it distracted me to the point of putting it aside in favor of reading the two other books I was in the middle of. I'm obviously not a perfect grammatician (since I apparently make up words and end sentences in prepositions) but I don't enjoy having my reading flow disrupted by lots of BIG words. Some of them were unnecessary and made me feel like Ms. Alcott had a Thesaurus on hand...more
Staci Miller
Is proximal a word? No internal dictionary likes it. I think that says a lot about this book actually.

The language is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The words move like poetry and it tells a heartbreaking story of childhood love gone sour, too young lovers losing their intimacy when entering adulthood. It has one of the most beautifully written "sex" scenes I've ever read, made even more achingly beautiful by what follows it. The chapters are gorgeous, short morsels of excellent story telling combine...more
Masters Review
Alcott's debut work is stunning on a sentence by sentence level. The insight she offers through prose is striking at times, and brilliant, with much more depth and maturity than you'd expect from a first-time novelist. My favorite parts of the story were Alcott's scenes regarding childhood, primarily the introduction of the sleepwalking brothers and Ida's perception of them. The premise of the book is strong and mostly well executed. I would recommend "The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets" to those...more
astried
Might be because I was listening it as audio book. I know I didn't concentrate much on the story. I had to re-play it a couple of time just to get the story right and I still missed a lot of things. Though it's not really audio book's fault, it was recorded by Blackstone audio that I always trust not to bungle the reading. I admit the reader's twang perhaps annoy me a bit though it might be said it's authentic American voice. No, the fault lies more on my side. I was disturbed more times than I...more
Marisa
The most striking thing about this book for me is that it absolutely nailed the experience of obsession, in a way that many authors have tried and few have succeeded. She nailed it. The story flowed pretty effortlessly back and forth, never unclear or frustrating to follow. I felt that the three main characters, Ida, Jackson, and James, were compelling and mostly likable while being imperfect enough to be realistic. The supporting characters too, were given life without taking up too much of the...more
Sarah


I was taught that if I couldn't say something nice then not to say anything at all. I'm kidding. I was never taught that- but have heard it so I can just ignore it.
This book was something that I had heard of and took what I heard and the summary and painted this picture of what to expect.
I thought I would immediately relate to it having grown up with a couple boys that I was really close to. I thought it would be a childhood tale of what it means to be friends or lovers or whatever.
It was kin...more
Amity
Dec 06, 2012 Amity rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: women
Alcott writes with lovely language; and the plot isn't bad. This was a difficult book for me to read because my sister is bipolar and I'm not quite at the point where we've come to terms over it. Seeing a not-scary presentation of bipolar disorder is sort of shocking.

That aside, this is the single most meaningful section in the book, at least for me:
"A normal, safe upbringing was what our parents had (at least told themselves) wanted for us, but the place we were raised seemed, the more we look...more
Joseph Nicolello
I was reading back issues of L Magazine the other day and got to the 'Top Hot Young Artists of Brooklyn To See Now' or w/e and one of the people on the list was someone whose studio I subletted to get an enormous amount of work done one summer, and I smiled to see her success. She was up north for half a year when I rented her studio. I thought her sculptures were awful, and actually tucked them away during my remainder in the room, till the end, but I smiled anyhow and thought, 'An omen!'

I read...more
Tuck
i family saga by a not-so-likable protag, set in pentaluma califa. place is invoked well, time too i guess. i just have a prejudice against stories about sleep disorders, dreaming, nightmares , insomnia, sleep walking, and in this case, sleep painting.
a debut though that is well written, beautifully edited. but for fucked up families i liked better: Wichita and blau Drinking Closer to Home and crane We Only Know So Much and queen of dysfunction goldberg Bee Season and millet for califa angle Gho...more
Jessica Jeffers
When I was really tiny – before school started and the concept of friends was clear – my mother used to babysit a neighbor my age, the son of a family friend. His name was Jason and because I was three, I thought that a “Jason” was a type of relation that everyone had. Kind of like a cousin, but more into Ninja Turtles.

That’s what I thought of while starting this book: Ida and Jackson were bonding before they had teeth, with no concept that their relationship could be defined as something as un...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Bad Description 4 26 Jul 01, 2013 06:06PM  
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