I was looking up reviews of the Ben Marcus novel The Flame Alphabet. I found an interesting review from 1/29/12 by Boris Kachka of New York magazine.
Kachka’s review comes from an alternate universe.
Kachka’s review title describes oft-published Marcus as from the “School of Hard Knocks." The review itself pegs Ben Marcus as “a deliberately obscure novelist who likes to fling Molotov cocktails at the literary Establishment.”
Yet it’d be hard to find anyone who’s more a bred and bonded member of the literary Establishment than Ben Marcus. His mother, Jane Marcus, is an English professor at CUNY and a notable feminist critic. Ben Marcus himself is a professor at prestigious Columbia University in New York, and the former chair of the esteemed Columbia writing program. His novel The Flame Alphabet is published by Alfred Knopf, part of the Random House publishing empire.
How obscure is the book? In addition to the Boris Kachka review, The Flame Alphabet has received reviews in The New York Times, The L.A. Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times, The Seattle Times, Bookforum, Booklist, The Guardian, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, The Millions, and many other places. Almost a Who’s Who of establishment media.
Ben Marcus has written for The New Yorker, Harper’s, Paris Review, Time, Rolling Stone, McSweeney’s, among other publications, and has received grants from the Creative Capital Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the National Endowment of the Arts. Marcus’s wife, Heidi Julavits, is herself a well-hyped novelist, and also an editor at The Believer.
A person with these kind of connections and credentials sits at the very center of today’s literary Establishment. What Boris Kachka said, then, in his New York magazine review of The Flame Alphabet was plainly false. As false as anything could be false. Why did Kachka say it?
The Boris Kachka portrayal of Ben Marcus fits someone’s false narrative. It’s likely that Kachka perpetuates the narrative because Ben Marcus wields real power in the clubby world of establishment literature—a world of pandering and dishonesty.