Every so often, among the ranks of heavy-hitter bestsellers and high-rising indie works, comes a whisper, a name as unpretentious as the work that appears before you. The one you just managed to read within hours as you sat disheveled in pajamas avoiding any form of interruption at all costs. If the name Ben Marcus fails to register in that mind palace of yours, no need to worry, as it soon will.
In Marcus’ latest short story collection, “Leaving the Sea,” there is plenty of room for celebration. The work, which comes nearly 20 years after his debut short story collection, “The Age of Wire and String,” offers 15 energetic, yet dark stories that are equally addicting as they are brilliant.
While difficult to choose, prime pieces include: “I Can Say Many Nice Things,” which reveals the story of one creative writing teacher and a cruise ship of his quirky students; “My Views on Darkness,” which depicts a survivalist question and answer interview during a time of disaster; “The Moors,” which follows a man lost in his mind, but desperate for peace; and lastly, my favorite, “Watching Mysteries with My Mother,” which details the relationship between a mother and son, and the idea of mortality.
In the latter story, Marcus writes: “I left my mother dying. In doorways, in kitchens, in living rooms, on lawns. Sometimes even when she was sick with a cold in bed, I said good-bye from the bottom of the stairs, just as her chances of dying had crested to an all-time high. I said good-bye and went to college, when she was even more likely to die. And when I came home to visit, it wasn’t long before I departed again, leaving her to die. Just as tonight, after watching a mystery on PBS, I said goodnight to my mother and left her at home to die.”
The brief passage above is only a small taste of Marcus’ writing style and skill. If you only read those select pieces, you are doing yourself a great disservice. Read the entire book — front to back, back to front — whatever sparks your literary arousal. One will find that the stories are distinct in writing style, voice, emotion, and theme — a wide array which includes science fiction, philosophy, family, education, and relationships.
When the collection comes to an end, Marcus leaves the reader like a child in a candy shop — wanting everything until every bit is consumed, and then, wanting more.
‘Leaving the Sea’ by Ben Marcus Rating: W W W W W