The premise of The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus doesn't make it sound like it's going to force you to do brain yoga. Language of children has become toxic and is slowly killing the adults. Cool, dystopian vibe, right!?!
I picked this book up thinking it would be the last of my fun summer reads, another serving of Pop Rocks with a poolside helping of Diet Coke. Something to be read while licking orange cheeto dust off my fingers.
By the time I hit page 50 I realized I had underestimated it. Things were happening in the book that seemed well outside of the premise I'd been sold.
Forest Jews were receiving religious instruction through listening devices connected to orange wires and somehow this was ground zero of the language toxicity epidemic. My complete lack of knowledge on the subjects of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah became evident, which brought on a full scale Jewish-style guilt trip because this seems like information a good non-Jewish mommy would investigate for the benefit of her half-Jewish kids who, according to Orthodox principles, aren't technically Jewish.
On Goodreads people either hated or loved this book. The positive reviews didn't just love it, they were passionate about it and used words like genius, masterpiece, ground-breaking. The negative reviews claimed it was boring and couldn't see what the fuss was about.
The negative reviews made a compelling argument to keep reading. I became determined I WOULD see what the fuss was about and so I pushed on. Instead of poolside with Cheetos, I read it in the evening when it was quiet, before bed.
Halfway through the book I began to have Flame Alphabet nightmares, dreams where I searched for ways to speak to my children without reliance on words (written or spoken), gesture or facial expression. The main character's search for alternative alphabets made me think about creating my own with equal lack of success.
I realized the book was easier to read and more comprehensible in small doses and so that's what I did; just one or two chapters a night. Even so, reaching the end just made me feel like I needed to go back and start at the beginning. Maybe if I did that I'd understand it better. Maybe the first reading was like the primer and the second reading would make everything clear. Or maybe the fuss is because this is a book with the capacity to engage both subconscious and imagination.
Given the odd nature of this book review, I'll understand if you don't feel compelled to rush out and buy it. But if you do, please let me know. I'm suffering from my own case of The Flame Alphabet induced language toxicity, in that I'm dying to talk about it with someone.