Children are truly unbearable in Ben Marcus’ new novel

The Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like The Brooklyn Paper on Facebook.

For parents, sometimes the sound of their child’s voice throwing a tantrum or begging to stay up past bedtime can be infuriating or excruciating — but what if it was actually lethal?

Find out in “The Flame Alphabet,” a new book that explores a nightmarish world where parents are forced to abandon their kids after a disease makes the sound of their voices too painful to bear.

The third book from author Ben Marcus, who will celebrate the release at BookCourt on Jan. 19, is a dystopian reversal of the old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” the writer said.

“I like to take ideas like that and exaggerate them and make them stronger,” he said. “I like books where somebody we might feel close to has things taken away. To me, the worst thing to have taken away would be my family and my language.” But the father of two small children insists that his own kids’ wails had nothing to do with the idea for this story, and that the disease in his new novel was born from a germ in his previous book, “Notable American Women,” in which a character named Larry the Punisher torments a man imprisoned in a backyard by piping in his voice through a tube.

I knew when I was writing it that I wanted to build a more epic story around [that idea],” said Marcus, who said that he wanted to play off his own worst fears as a father.

In the book, an epidemic plagues adults, who get weak and physically sick when they hear the sound of children’s voices. A side-effect of the epidemic actually causes their faces to “get smaller,” said Marcus.

Despite the book’s wild premise, the story revolves around a pair of parents forced to abandon their daughter.

“It’s very invented and fantastical, but I wanted the family part of the story to be realistic,” said Marcus. “What if you couldn’t bear to be around your children?”

“The Flame Alphabet” book launch at BookCourt [163 Court Street between Pacific and Dean streets (718) 875-3677] Jan. 19 at 7 pm. For info, email

Reach reporter Dan MacLeod at or by calling him at (718) 260-4507. You can also follow his Tweets at

Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like The Brooklyn Paper on Facebook.

Reader Feedback

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Don’t miss out!

Stay in touch with the stories people are talking about in your neighborhood:

Optional: Help us tailor our newsletters to you!