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The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets

3.29  ·  Rating Details ·  582 Ratings  ·  123 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
Paperback, 208 pages
Published September 11th 2012 by Other Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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(showing 1-30)
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Grace Hobbs
Jun 16, 2013 Grace Hobbs rated it it was ok
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
Oct 24, 2012 Oriana rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 04, 2013 Jesse rated it liked it
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
Okay, so technically, I did finish this book by skimming from page 70 through the end and then reading the last ten pages backwards. It really didn't matter.

Like much of the contemporary literary fiction written over the last two decades, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is full of beautifully written prose but empty of plot and meaning - a scrapbook of finely crafted vignettes that really don't make an engaging story - or even any sense. I neither liked nor could relate to any of the characte
Feb 17, 2014 Lisa rated it liked it
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
Ashley Wang
Jun 21, 2016 Ashley Wang rated it liked it
The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets sacrifices plot, fluency and depth for attempts at poetic writing. Although the theme of the novel is initially interesting, Alcott creates intense metaphors that actually diverge from the novel's direct concepts. I found most of the characters hard to relate to, mostly because their experiences and personalities are distant, once again sacrificed for poetic writing.

I feel like Alcott tried too hard to fit today's idea of "contemporary writing". True, there are
Sep 08, 2012 Lisa rated it really liked it
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
Aug 09, 2012 Danielle rated it it was ok
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
Sep 11, 2015 Sharon rated it really liked it
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
Mar 11, 2015 Colleen rated it it was amazing
I loooooved this! It is full of heartbreaking, beautiful, honest vignettes. I will re-read this often as a testament to the depth of my relationship, regardless of the books overall negative tone and doomed relationship narrative.
Mar 08, 2013 Jessica rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
I loved it. I really enjoyed the tone and suspense throughout. I realize that there are many moments that were overdone or too dramatic and that it was not quite believable. However, the tone was near perfect and after having just finished Toby's Room (in which the incestuous relationship was pivotal but understated), Proximal Alphabets provided a great example of how to highlight the discrepancies between different kinds of love.

This story is ostensibly about Ida and Jackson; it is a love story
Aug 23, 2012 Lori rated it really liked it
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
Jun 24, 2013 Elly rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Melinda Elizabeth
Dec 11, 2012 Melinda Elizabeth rated it liked it
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
Dec 13, 2013 Antigone rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
Beautiful use of language; clever approach to the subjective rationale. Sadly, beneath such exquisite wrapping paper lies an empty box.

And this brings to light my chief complaint with literature today.

I find it frustrating that so many new (and nearly new) novelists who are lost to themselves are being encouraged by academics, workshops, publishers and each other to believe the simple act of navel-gazing constitutes story. Some form of resolution, if not reached, must at least be actively sought
Hilary Hanselman
Jul 11, 2015 Hilary Hanselman rated it really liked it
This was beautifully written and perfectly captures the lore and magic of growing up in Petaluma. I'm so happy to have a book that encapsulates the unique wonder of it all. I think it's interesting that a book so focused on characters and relationships leaves its central character so obscured. Ida is a reflection of the people around her, molding herself into their curves both figuratively and literally. At times, I did find the emotional pitch overwhelming, but I think it serves to push the ...more
Nov 14, 2012 Rebekah rated it liked it
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
Oct 08, 2012 Jeb rated it really liked it
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.
Sep 08, 2012 David rated it it was amazing
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 is just so wonderfully done. This book moved me, and that's really all I should say.
Patricia Geller
Sep 24, 2012 Patricia Geller rated it really liked it
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
Oct 13, 2012 Timothy Faust rated it it was amazing
Not a single goddamn word wasted.
Joanie Driemeyer
Jul 27, 2014 Joanie Driemeyer rated it liked it
I couldn't relate to the characters. They didn't speak like real people.
Nov 20, 2016 Bandit rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great title doesn't necessarily make for a great book, but it does attract attention. The book itself was a story of a family/a love affair, tightly interwoven, told from a perspective of a young woman in her roles as a lover/sister/daughter/friend/etc. The love affair and its repercussions take the primarily focus with its not technically so, but still too proximal to incest undertones. It actually isn't as sordid as all that, but it's somewhat odd. It's a well written book in that particular ...more
Nov 01, 2016 Aj rated it it was ok
I should have known from the overwrought title that this was a stinker. The main problem for me was themes introduced at the beginning and not carried through the book. E.g. the narrator says "Jackson has called me 'I' as long as I can remember," and then he doesn't throughout most of the book - although, that is good for the reader, because it's really hard to read sentences like, "...and tomatoes and anything you want, I and you'll always come for dinner and I'll cook for you and it will be so ...more
Aug 17, 2015 Susan rated it really liked it
“I wondered what it felt like to be a girl everywhere; I thought that if I was in her place, I might feel lucky.”

In her debut novel, Kathleen Alcott introduces us to a world ruled by sleep: the death of a mother troubled by the memory of her dreams, the resulting insomnia of a now-single father, and the impenetrable, sleep-talk language displayed by our female protagonist’s surrogate brothers, Jackson and James. As a child, Ida lies awake in the space between the two boys’ beds, struggling to un
Larry Hoffer
Dec 28, 2012 Larry Hoffer rated it really liked it
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
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
Mar 22, 2016 Caitlin rated it it was ok
This book is an example of great writing getting in the way of storytelling.

It's the story of Ida - "I" for short (and for completely derailing sentence syntax) - who has grown up with considering the neighbour's boys as virtually her brothers. With one of them, Jackson, she develops a Cathy-Heathcliff siblings-cum-soulmates intense relationship, which has gone sour and the story is told through switching from present-day to the past. Jackson and his brother James have their own issues, mainly
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