Leav­ing the Sea: Stories

Ben Mar­cus
  • From the Publisher
March 13, 2014
From one of the most inno­v­a­tive and vital writ­ers of his gen­er­a­tion, an extra­or­di­nary col­lec­tion of sto­ries that show­cas­es his gifts — and his range — as nev­er before. 

In the hilar­i­ous, lac­er­at­ing I Can Say Many Nice Things,” a washed-up writer toy­ing with infi­deli­ty leads a cre­ative writ­ing work­shop on board a cruise ship. In the dystopi­an Rolling­wood,” a divorced father strug­gles to take care of his ill infant, as his ex-wife and col­leagues try to ren­der him irrel­e­vant. In Watch­ing Mys­ter­ies with My Moth­er,” a son med­i­tates on his mother’s mor­tal­i­ty, hop­ing to stave off her death for as long as he sits by her side. And in the title sto­ry, told in a sin­gle breath­tak­ing sen­tence, we watch as the narrator’s mar­riage and his san­i­ty unrav­el, draw­ing him to the brink of sui­cide. 

As the col­lec­tion pro­gress­es, we move from more tra­di­tion­al nar­ra­tives into the exper­i­men­tal work that has made Ben Mar­cus a ground­break­ing mas­ter of the short form. In these oth­er­world­ly land­scapes, char­ac­ters resort to extreme sur­vival strate­gies to nav­i­gate the ter­rors of adult­hood, one opt­ing to live in a light­less cave and anoth­er method­i­cal­ly set­ting out to recov­er total child­hood inno­cence; an automa­ton dis­cov­ers love and has to rein­vent lan­guage to accom­mo­date it; fil­ial loy­al­ty is seen as a dan­ger­ous weak­ness that must be drilled away; and the dis­tance from a cubi­cle to the office cof­fee cart is refig­ured as an exis­ten­tial waste­land, requir­ing hero­ic effort. 

In these pierc­ing, bril­liant­ly observed inves­ti­ga­tions into human vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and fail­ure, it is often the most absurd and alien predica­ments that cap­ture the deep­est truths. Sur­re­al and ten­der, ter­ri­fy­ing and life-affirm­ing, Leav­ing the Sea is the work of an utter­ly unique writer at the height of his powers. 

Discussion Questions