A terrible epidemic has struck the country and the sound of children's speech has become lethal. Radio transmissions from strange sources indicate that people are going into hiding. All Sam and Claire need to do is look around the neighbourhood: In the park, parents wither beneath the powerful screams of their children. At night, suburban side streets become routes of shameful escape for fathers trying to get outside the radius of affliction. With Claire nearing collapse, it seems their only means of survival is to flee from their daughter, Esther, who laughs at her parents' sickness, unaware that in just a few years she, too, will be susceptible to the language toxicity. But Sam and Claire find it isn't so easy to leave the daughter they still love, even as they waste away from her malevolent speech. On the eve of their departure, Claire mysteriously disappears, and Sam, determined to find a cure for this new toxic language, presses on alone into a world beyond recognition. The Flame Alphabet invites the question: what is left of civilization when we lose the ability to communicate with those we love?
Both morally engaged and wickedly entertaining, a gripping page-turner as strange as it is moving, this intellectual horror story ensures Ben Marcus's position in the first rank of American novelists.
BEN MARCUS is the author of The Age of Wire and String, Notable American Women, The Flame Alphabet and Leaving the Sea. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, Granta, Harper's and the Paris Review. Marcus has received a Whiting Writers' Award, a Berlin Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is on the faculty at Columbia University in New York.