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Notable American Women

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  870 Ratings  ·  105 Reviews
Ben Marcus achieved cult status and gained the admiration of his peers with his first book, The Age of Wire and String. With Notable American Women he goes well beyond that first achievement to create something radically wonderful, a novel set in a world so fully imagined that it creates its own reality.

On a farm in Ohio, American women led by Jane Dark practice all means
Paperback, 243 pages
Published March 19th 2002 by Vintage
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Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
A wise man once said, "Hell yeah, motherfucker. You're gonna love this." Such wisdom remains etched as it first was at the head of the communication boxes below. Verily, I say unto you, this language vessel rises above the din of most experimental or surreal endeavors. It is surely not the only such book concerned with the nature of language and meaning and reality, or assembled with slyly strung together and unrelenting and astounding oddness, but it does more in the service of agitating the re ...more
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Oct 07, 2014 Ian "Marvin" Graye rated it it was amazing
Understanding a Genius is Overrated

If you were ever confronted by a true genius, how would you deal with them?

Would you just accept them as they are, or would you try to understand what made them so?

Based on my reading of his second book (the first of his I've read), I suspect that Ben Marcus is a genius.

It’s possible that you could learn a lot about "Ben Marcus", one of the narrators, just by reading this book. However, even his fictional mother is dismissive of understanding:

"Understanding is
Feb 19, 2012 Greg rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
What follows is a review I wrote on June 13th, 2003 for the book Notable American Women by the author Ben Marcus. It was written for a consumer review website, and that website had some standards for how a review should be written, and I followed them at the time. You'll notice an absence of fucks, they didn't allow cursing, and if there was cursing it had to be censored. I don't think there are any fucks in this review, so you won't see any F***'s, I don't think. I just skimmed through the revi ...more
Vit Babenco
Apr 02, 2016 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing
“Except Dark did not speak at night because the darkness lowered her voice so much, it frightened her women. She slept in a sentry harness outside my mother’s bedroom door, her hands dangling like roots, wrapped in the translucent linen that was starting to fill our house, baffling every sound-making thing until nothing more than the smallest whimpers could escape from it. She rested and kept watch. Even sleeping, she muted our house with her long, soft body, a silence that lasted well into the ...more
Nate D
Mar 25, 2013 Nate D rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: the speaking tube in the field out back
Recommended to Nate D by: bathing in behavior water
Ben Marcus' writing is a kind of synaesthesia, a movement of once-familiar terms across modalities (language, physiology and medicine, sociology) into the deeply unfamiliar. Those threads of familiarity are strong, though. They lead straight back to the source and can still call up a convulsive empathy. In a book and world as wholly bizarre as this one, this constitutes nearly an act of magic.

Of Marcus' other books, both of which excel in certain ways, The Age of Wire and String is the most vis
Ashley Crawford
Jan 08, 2009 Ashley Crawford rated it it was amazing
Ben Marcus
The Age of Wire and String
Notable American Women

If, in the ‘postmodern’ canon David Foster Wallace made claim to the footnote and Mark Z. Danielewski to crazed typography, then in The Age of Wire and String Ben Marcus has pretty much secured The Glossary as his initial trademark feature.

The Glossary has, of course, been used in fiction before – most recently by Neal Stephenson in his massive Anathem – but never before, as far as I know, has it made up the entirety of a work of fiction.
Aug 05, 2007 Jenny rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: fiction
my friend farmer brown was always telling me to read this, and i was always asking him, is it, like, history? when he sent it to me, i read it. it's definitely not history. it's fiction, and the best i can say about it is that sometimes, reading on my morning subway commute, i had to close the book and quick distract myself just to keep from throwing up. i mean, it's one of my favorites.
Dec 06, 2011 Amy rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
This book is very strange, and I didn't know what to make of it for a while. Ben Marcus is a boy living in a cult of women who believe in silence and at times communicate with motion and other times want to ban motion. They also try to use Ben for breeding purposes. The bulk of the book is Ben explaining the rules and history of the cult, but from the perspective of someone who has always lived within its confines...basically, the book reads very clinically at times. I was ready to dismiss it fo ...more
Oct 17, 2016 Abby rated it really liked it
“Healthy, sturdy, ‘strong people’ (an oxymoron) are welcome to do their best to fetch this book into their persons through whatever word-eating technology they favor: reading, scanning, the poultice, a Brown Hat. But healthy, study, and strong people probably don’t need to be reading a book, do not miss anything in their lives that would make them want to waste time sitting down with a book that, admittedly, won’t do much to add to their strength or confidence or well-being, properties that are ...more
Matthew Peck
Apr 18, 2014 Matthew Peck rated it really liked it
Ben Marcus's debut novel defies convention in form, style, and content. There's family ("Ben Marcus" and his parents) at the center, living on a farmhouse-turned-compound in a dystopian Akron. Mrs. Marcus has come under the influence of a visionary cult leader named Jane Dark, who espouses a philosophy of extreme self-denial where absolute silence and stillness are seen as the ideal mode of existence. Mr. Marcus, meanwhile, has been exiled to an underground prison cell in the back forty, while y ...more
Li'l Vishnu
Sep 11, 2016 Li'l Vishnu rated it it was ok
“In the next card, the boy received a shock if he tried to enter the father’s shadow. Cards showed him being flung back as if from a force field, sparks roving over his body.” — p. 160

This book comes from a genre I like to call Prize-Winning Humor. It is funny, particularly if you are a panel of judges.

I'd say it's something like a imaginary thesis, there is almost no dialogue. It imposes a rigid structure: a tale, an FAQ, some empirical evidence, then a timeline. This is repeated three times, b
Jul 19, 2011 Emily rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
ben marcus's book is as good as it is off-putting. i got hypnotised at times by the reinvention of language - the way he describes the activities, beliefs and diets of the followers of jane dark (a movement of women who strive for complete stillness and silence, using a vowel-only language, eating nuts and specially brewed water, and soaking up the angry air of sound and emotion [mainly created by men] with pieces of linen). fascinating stuff, and beautifully written throughout.

i was carried alo
Aug 23, 2007 Rob rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: open-minded people looking for something totally unique
Shelves: fiction
if i didn't give this book 5 stars, i might have to give it 2. it is truly avant-garde, and i think many, many people who pick this book up will get about a third of the way through it and then just throw it against the wall.

the first and last chapters are actually fairly coherent and remarkable. they are riveting, chilling, hilarious, and bizarre. but the body of the book consists of an (almost?) incomprehensible series of, what, nightmare collage flashbacks? alternating with "historical" biogr
Sep 25, 2013 Vtlozano rated it it was amazing
Any attempt to describe this book is confusing.

Roughly speaking, it is a book made out of language.

Language is the main character.

The language is set in a Midwest that is as abstract as the landscapes in Wallace Stevens poems, and concerns a cult of women who ritualize stillness and silence.

There is another character, a boy, the narrator who lives among the women as a kind of captive in a war between the sexes.

That war is described in the lyrical and formal epistolary language of diplomacy,
Jack Rousseau
Sep 11, 2015 Jack Rousseau rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jack by: Robert Earl Stewart
The Jonathan Franzen - Ben Marcus feud well documented. The gist of it being that Jonathan Franzen is dismissive of challenging authors. Embodied by William Gaddis, or "Mr. Difficult" as Franzen calls him. (What does this say about Franzen's attitude toward female authors? We already know how Franzen feels about female readers, based on his reaction to being inducted into the Oprah Hall of Fame.) Whereas Ben Marcus champions experimental and innovative forms of writing.
For readers who dismiss Be
Aug 06, 2010 Larry rated it it was amazing
This might be slightly less compelling than The Age of Wire and String. It's missing the shock of the totally new. The longer form means it's more diffuse and Marcus has increased the sense of an actual mimetic story going on (from "none" to "some", which is a long way). On the other hand, this makes some of the surrealism even more unnerving.

So what we've eventually got here is by far the oddest troubled family semi-autobiographical soap opera memoir you'll ever read. Where The Age of Wire and
Mar 04, 2014 Rayroy rated it it was ok
Yes Ben Marcus is daring and wicked smart he echoes Barthelme but I feel nothing when I read his books. Nothing. I'm impressed yes but Lonesome Dove now that's more up my ally, or anything by Harry Crews, Ben's part of the in-crowd of the literary world along with George Saunders and like him I fear he likes the sound of his own literary voice too much there's a lot of literary muscle here but very little literary heart, "Notable American Woman" is much like Nicolas Winding Refn's new film "Only ...more
Josh Friedlander
It's all very well to abandon the trappings of the conventional novel and write a book about the annihilation of language, in which the language itself is alienated, flattened and harsh. But surely there must be some point behind it all - not just a painful repetition of bizarre sadism, patricidal angst, and a trove of weirdness from the vintage Americana jumble sale? Feels all too much like an angry undergrad essay, stretched out far beyond its flimsy premise, signifying a disdain for the normc ...more
Bryan Dunn
Jun 20, 2012 Bryan Dunn rated it did not like it
I hate this book. I hate it in a way that's difficult to put into words.

It's unapologetically intellectual; I don't mean that as an insult or a compliment, more an observation. There isn't any emotional involvement here, unless you count the love the author has for language itself. Technically, it's inventive and ambitious. I think it succeeds at everything it sets out to do. It's the novel equivalent of listening to deliberately atonal music. There's a staggering amount of talent and intelligen
May 04, 2012 Kelley rated it liked it
I stand from a social fiction bias, but I couldn't really glean much from this novel when I stepped away from the sentence to sentence breakdown. The language is imaginative, and I think that was the basic point of his work. However, the novel failed to evoke any kind of emotional response from me. In my mind, it is the physical and emotion responses that make fiction worth reading again. Notable American Women just functioned as brain exercise.
Robert Stewart
Jul 24, 2011 Robert Stewart rated it did not like it
Couldn't finish this. I've read a fair amount of what's known as plotless fiction, most of which I've enjoyed; some of which I've loved. The letter from the father, Michael Marcus, at the beginning of this book, is hilarious. Everything seemed full of promise. I read another 80 pages beyond that, and was disappointed to the point where I was avoiding picking it up. For me, it's never an easy decision to stop reading a book.
Feb 01, 2013 Scott rated it it was amazing
Ben Marcus is terrifyingly brilliant. He is too smart, too clever, too beyond the pale for casual consumption. He might be an alien, or a computer program, and if so, his programmer should be cut up and eaten as baby food.
Jul 20, 2012 Arlo rated it liked it
The syntax, prose and Marcus's ability to use language as an art is cream of the crop. To good to be ignored by any language or word geeks.
N.A.W. is a dystopian novel, that while it is a little strange, it isn't something you read for plot.
Sep 30, 2007 Nathanimal rated it really liked it
So surreal and weird, and fixated on language almost to the point of feeling clinical, but an amazingly personal story too. Marcus is one of the most experimental writers out there, but, surprise surprise, not boring at all.
Aug 20, 2007 Adam rated it really liked it
Marcus continues his language parade with this odd autobiography from some dystopian otherworld (maybe a world thought up by Borges and Barthelme). Absolutely strange beauty.
Alan Newman
Dec 28, 2016 Alan Newman rated it liked it
Don't ask me why I liked this enigmatic, oddly frightening, often funny and totally weird book. I felt the same way about Marcus' Flame Alphabet. Common to both books is the idea of language being either toxic or at least no longer adequate since we no longer communicate with one another. In Flame Alphabet it was children's language toxic to adults; in this novel it was male (hard consonants) vs female (all vowels or only mime) Language pitted against one another. Both are about loss of communit ...more
Suzanne Walker
Dec 12, 2016 Suzanne Walker rated it did not like it
I didn't finish it. I wish I'd stopped reading it sooner. Look, I'm not an idiot. I can handle some experimental fiction. But this book displays utter contempt for its reader. I offer it utter contempt in return.
Aj Sterkel
Jul 09, 2015 Aj Sterkel rated it it was ok
Shelves: literary-fiction
I saw this book on a list of experimental novels, and the premise immediately got my attention: The main character (also named Ben Marcus) is living on a farm that has been taken over by a group of women who are trying to stay completely still and silent. The women imprison Ben’s meddling father in an underground cell and use Ben and his sister for strange behavior-altering experiments. The women speak in an all-vowel language, ride around on sleds to avoid walking, faint voluntarily, and brew w ...more
Apr 21, 2008 Gabriel rated it really liked it
A few people have commented on the wrapping text, the first and last chapters of this novel. As in "Age of Wire and String," the wrap-text does a kind of shuffle, aw-gee kind of introduction to the meat of the book, which, like "Age..." is composed in Marcus's novel diction, while the wrap-texts come closer to plain-speech.

For me, at least, these two chapters convince me that this is actually a novel, rather than a collection of pieces-- which it is, of course. In this, then, Marcus's efforts,
Oct 09, 2007 Summer rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: curiosity collectors
I started reading this book because I appreciated a couple essays and/or periodical contributions by Ben Marcus. But this book... I was absolutely committed until it was over. I was ready to spread the gospel of Ben Marcus wherever and whenever, until the book ended and nothing had made my brain explode. The language was expertly crafted, yes, but by the last fifty pages it felt formulaic. The story? Wildly creative, but no funny no so true it hurts no heartache for the family unit. Or, if they ...more
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Seemingly the most conspicuous aspect of Ben Marcus' work, to date, is its expansion on one of the most primary concerns of the original Surrealist authors -- perhaps most typified by Benjamin Péret, husband of the acclaimed painter Remedios Varo -- this being a very deep interest in the psychological service and implication of symbols and the manners by which those symbols can be maneuvered and r ...more
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“Spelling is a way to make words safe, at least for now, until another technology appears to soften attacks launched from the mouth.” 13 likes
“A misspelled word is probably an alias for some desperate call for aid, which is bound to fail.” 8 likes
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