Leaving the Sea: Stories

As a short story writer, Ben Marcus (The Age of Wire and String) tends toward the enigmatic, the abstract. As one of his characters says, "There's no need to cripple our thinking with specificity."

Leaving the Sea, Marcus's second story collection, brings together 15 stories, divided, like chapters, into six numbered parts. One section includes two brief stories (more like reflections, really), both structured as questions with answers, while the title story, just six pages long, is mostly a single sentence, a man's rambling, disquieting disquisition on his impending madness. The tone lightens up with "I Can Say Many Nice Things," where Fleming, a cantankerous, unfunny writer teaches a writing class on a cruise ship in an airless room without a clock. One of his students hasn't shown up, and there's a rumor going around that someone has jumped off the ship...

"Watching Mysteries with My Mother" is about a son waiting for his mother to die. They watch PBS mysteries together, and the son tells us that he has "chronically abandoned her, each time at the height of an ever-increasing danger." At the end, she survives. Grief is postponed, yet again.

Marcus's stories are not quite experimental, yet neither are they "traditional" (in the general sense of the term--beginning, middle, end). They straddle both. They are intense, opaque, elliptical and go on, Beckett-like. Each finds its own form on its own terms. Marcus is always looking for a new way to tell an old story. As he has written elsewhere, stories "seek personal residence within a reader." They should take over the reader's imagination, as these do. --Tom Lavoie

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