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Notes from the Fog: Stories

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  541 ratings  ·  87 reviews
Thirteen transfixing new stories from one of the most innovative writers of his generation and one of the most vital and original voices of our time--for fans of George Saunders, Nathan Englander, and Elizabeth Strout.

In these thirteen ingenious stories, Ben Marcus reveals moments of redemption in the sometimes nightmarish modern world. In "The Grow-Light Blues," a hapless
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 21st 2018 by Knopf Publishing Group (first published April 21st 2018)
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Average rating 3.72  · 
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 ·  541 ratings  ·  87 reviews

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Aug 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
...he grabbed Lester, and Lester squealed with delight, squirming in his father's arms. Do you see how this used to work? Martin wanted to say to Jonah. This was you once, this was us.

Cold Little Bird

Cold Little Bird is about a young man who decides that he hates his father. At 10 years old, Jonah is suddenly too mature for his parents' bed time stories, their hugs, their kisses, their tickles.

It was so jarring to see. The father, Martin, was at his wit's end when he saw how independent his eldest son was get
Richard Derus
Jan 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Free to read at The New Yorker (you get four free reads a month; this is worth burning one)

An older married couple called James and Alice, together for many years, are retired to a coastal island that is in Hurricane Boris (much raillery over such a moniker is had)'s sights. Inertia being what it is, they wait until evacuation is mandatory to get out of there. The story is the trip, narrated from Her P.o.V. He is ill. She is a conflicted mass of irritation, habitual affection, and solidly bu
Jun 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Carmen by: The New Yorker
If he loves me, it is because that may open the portal for more cuddles and touches. That's all. He needs to be swaddled, and I just happen to be nearby. If I ever dare to walk past him without touching his hand or stopping to outright kiss him, he pouts all day and looks up at me with mournful eyes. A husband is a bag of need with a dank wet hole at its bottom. The polar opposite of a go bag. I comply with James's wishes when I can, but the day is long and I have other projects.

I guess I want J
Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
You may have heard rumors that Ben Marcus has eased up on his weird style in recent years and that may be 15% true, but I'll reassure you: There is no one writing like Ben Marcus and this book is so darkly weird, so sentence-drivenly spectacular, so other-worldly while still being recognizably in our world, so damn funny, and so perverse that it may be his best book ever.
Just a few of my favorite stories: Cold Little Bird (a young son thwarts affection from his family, reads 9/11 conspiracy boo
Sep 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I got on the Ben Marcus train about 4 years ago and never looked back. This latest collection is so tight and weird--he's up there with the best of the new fiction right alongside Brian Evenson. Marcus has one of the most unique voices in short fiction: dark, modest and at times absolutely hilarious.

I can't remember when I've read stories by an author that feels life this intensely and with so much beautiful despair. Brings to mind David Foster Wallace--but without the hyper-intellectualized br
Anthony Crupi
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ben Marcus speaks in tongues that are not wholly our own, and the things he does with language often make it seem as if you're hearing an unfamiliar tongue muttering hideous, hilarious things from another room, like if you were staying in the hotel room directly across from Celine Dion's Vegas suite and she kept singing about farts that could kill you and other untidy exits. The man is goddamn brilliant and his likeness should be emblazoned on all our stamps and currency.
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
4.5 | Marcus writes with a classic tone. The stories feel lived in, aged, and refined. Maybe a text written fifty or so years ago. Yet. The texture of these sentences is something altogether new and shattering. The use of words as something scientific, experimental, and original. The stories do not always seem to go anywhere or always seem to make sense. Even after rereads of paragraphs, passages, and pages. There is a disconnect between the action of the language and the action of those living ...more
Paul Lockman
2.5 stars rounded up. I didn’t intend to read this collection but I had just read a very positive review in Saturday’s newspaper and I was in my local library when I saw it there amongst the new releases so I grabbed it. I really don't like to be too negative when posting a review - it's difficult enough for an author to get published. I did enjoy four of the thirteen stories but overall I felt that there wasn't enough interesting and creative material in these stories to recommend them to you. ...more
Keith Rosson
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Still gloriously, unflinchingly weird. Marcus can craft a sentence that just leaves my jaw hanging open, and then make the next one just as wild and strange, and the next after that. A little more linear than his previous collection, there are still a gathering of moments here where it feels like he's not writing about our world, but maybe the next one over. Terrific collection.
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Months ago I must have read this in such a blur of euphoria that I neglected to catalog and extol it here. I don't always buy brand new books at full cover price as soon as I possibly can, but when I do there's a good chance it's Ben Marcus. I half-hope he does something terrible eventually so that I can gain some critical distance. Until then his oeuvre remains suspiciously perfect and true.
Joachim Stoop
Oct 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: out-in-2018

As with most story collections: some stories are superb, some are just ok
Ed Erwin
Nov 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-story
Some stories are amazing. Others less so.

The opening story was the most chilling for me. Imagine being a parent (shudder!) and having your child tell you that he does not love you, and even more, that if you attempt to hug him again he will report you to child protective services for inappropriate touches. Yikes! (Reminiscent of The Fifth Child, which it explicitly references, but even more chilling.)
Oct 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
I notice that the writing Ben Marcus is likely to get either 1-2 stars or 4-5. I can understand that and I like the fact that he is not comfortably in the middle. This story is not comfortable at all. What do we do when we love someone intensely and they stop loving us back? This story poses the question and it's a good one, a tough one. The parents of a suddenly mature and opaque 10 year old can't just shrug this off as a phase or shed their concern as not central to their very beings. Can the ...more
Sam Gilbert
Oct 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Ben Marcus has improved. His earlier fictions were appallingly uninvolving. The stories here range from quite uninvolving to quite involving, though his continued insistence on throwing language at us hoping for "Ooohs" and "Aaahs" spotlights a writer still artistically immature.

Sometimes it's enough to be amused by strong imagery and some striking dialogue, even though it doesn't add up to much. The two science-fiction stories about testing new drugs achieve that level of success. But Marcus's
Jun 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this story. The use of language is beautiful and the narrative itself is engaging enough. But what I loved was the layers of character that were unwrapped in the narrator during the story. To me, it all started with this sentence: "I guess I want James to die. I don’t want this actively. Or with malice. But in a dim and distant way I gently root for James’s absence so that I can proceed to the other side of the years I have left, get to what happens next."

From there, my attention was c
Nov 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I have a deep and abiding fondness for Ben Marcus. Some of this is no doubt due to his wild, experimental, devil-may-care, assertively uncommercial debut THE AGE OF WIRE AND STRING, which I have fond memories of purchasing in a small bookstore in New Mexico that you would hardly expect to carry it. A good part of it is no doubt due to THE FLAME ALPHABET, which is not only one of the finest novels of the the twenty-first century, but took on a status, when I read it, that sort of dwarfed its mere ...more
Eric Sasson
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Perhaps it’s wrong to give a book this uneven 5 stars, but hear me out: sure, some of these stories aren’t great. One of them I couldn’t even finish, and two of them felt a bit glib and facile. But at least half of them are sublime. Truly exceptional in the literal sense, as I don’t think anyone is even trying to do what Marcus is doing, and perhaps shouldn’t. His stories are bizarre, deeply unsettling and on the sentence level, even on the word level, virtuosic. While novels ought to give us an ...more
Sep 30, 2018 rated it liked it
5 stars for "Cold Little Bird" - a superb story and easily my favourite here - and I also particularly liked "Blueprints for St. Louis", "The Boys" and "George and Elizabeth". As for the rest? I appreciated some of the writing and the linguistic playfulness, but they really weren't my cup of tea.
Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: shortstories
Two stars. One for each of the 13 stories that was good (Cold Little Bird; Critique). The bad stories are cynical and make me feel sorry for contemporary writers- that they can be so empty yet still produce things to publish. No clues for meaningful living in this book.
Dec 26, 2018 rated it liked it
What a weird little book this was.
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Marcus returns to form with this collection of gloomy extremely near-future stories about family, employment, medicine, and technology. It's as though these stories take place on a parallel world 15% different than ours, where emotions flow in a different register. More relatable than Marcus's "Age of Wire and String," it has a similar reality-vertigo-altering effect as you read.

Special mention to:
"Blueprints for St. Louis"
"A Suicide of Trees"
"The Trees of Sawtooth Park"
Aelya Salman
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Ben Marcus crafts sentences like the gasp of interrupted speech. Really, a difficult style to master — if it to be mastered at all; I suppose one is just born with it.
Dec 11, 2018 rated it liked it
My first Ben Marcus. I really enjoyed four of the 13 stories. All the rest felt the same to me. I saw this random, three-star review from some guy named Nate on here. I think he says it best: “A bleak Saunders. Stylistically impressive at times but utterly pessimistic and limited in scope.”
Aug 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Might be rounding up from 3.5 -- the early going in this collection is where I really loved it. Stories that reminded me of the work of Alex Kleeman, of Michael Cisco, of Jeff VanderMeer, but a little more down the middle, perhaps. But quickly I found that Marcus loves coming up with a good idea, a good concept, and then sometimes just letting it sputter out. Not quite knowing what to do with it. By the end of the collection, I was tired of it, and it's only 13 stories.

Still, that cover...
Pyramids Ubiquitous
Oct 22, 2019 rated it did not like it
The characters in these stories reek of the basest twenty-first century neuroses.
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: con, sf, short-stories
They say chance encounters are vital for the formation of a friendship, and that is exactly how I came to Notes from the Fog, after coming across "Blueprints from St. Louis" and "Stay Down and Take It," though I didn't realize they were both written by Marcus at the time.

In its title story, the narrator asks, “How do we count the various ways and style of nothing we feel?” and in some ways, this collection of stories seems to be grappling with with this question in ways that are sometimes hard
Michelle D’costa
Oct 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Amazing. Must read.

Was reading Junot Diaz's article on LitHub yesterday about how he prefers the short story to the novel.

He has curated the Best American short stories 2016.

I noted a few names of the stories included in the collection.

One is 'cold little bird' in the new yorker.

Just read it. Loved it. If you haven't read it already, please do.

Highly recommend it.
Seema Ravi krishna
Oct 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
I am still trying to figure out what snapped in the child? I feel helpless for the parents and dread the times i will have to face when my son grows up. Guess, i was looking for an answer at the end of story but guess life unlike stories isn't always a happily ever after!
Dec 23, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Charles Cohen
Mar 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: modern-lit
Ben Marcus is WAY into parenting right now. So many of these stories relate to the parent-child relationship, in that typical, broken-language horror milieu Marcus plays in so well. But there was this kind of, I hate to say it, but derivative context that crept creeping in. It was like Marcus just read a bunch of George Saunders, and couldn't quite squeeze out the satire or the dystopian bits before starting his own stories. Marcus often worked in reality-adjacent settings, but they weren't dyst ...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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“Pattern was a family name belonging to their great-grandmother, who lived on a brutally cold little island, and who, according to their mother, had made a sport of surviving terminal illnesses.” 0 likes
“James shows his feelings so liberally that they come at a discount, and their value diminishes. When he says he loves me, usually in a threatening way, the statement always seems to beg for reciprocation. I guess he cries wolf. More or less sobs it. One could argue that everything James says is merely the word “wolf” in one language or another.” 0 likes
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