Children are truly unbearable in Ben Marcus’ new novel

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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
Updated 5:29 pm, July 9, 2018
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