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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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The Flame Alphabet

The Flame Alphabet - Ben Marcus

Okay, tell me if you've heard this one before...

The setting: a dystopian world that almost mirrors our own.
The protagonist: a confused man who can't decide if he is a rebel or a minion.
The antagonist: the mysterious operative who is about as frightening as a Chicken McNugget. No, less frightening than a Chicken McNugget.
The girl in the cross-fire: well, she doesn't really matter any way, she's just there for effect.
The plot: “they” are out to get you. Be careful what you say, it can kill you.

You want to know my thoughts on The Flame Alphabet? Read my review of 1984. I'd hate to have to repeat myself and it's all pretty much there.

What's different? Well, the concept is wonderful! Perhaps in 1948, the concept of 1984 was original, but it is no longer. The Flame Alphabet, however, carries so much promise in its description. Imagine, a world where children's voices are poisonous. Oh the horrors that we can draw: people shooting children in the streets, mothers aborting their fetuses. Oh the heart strings we can tug at: fathers crumpling under the weight of “I love you, daddy”s, families having to abandon the child they fought so hard to conceive. Oh the social commentaries we can make: commentaries on aging and parenting and the power of language. So much potential! None of it is tapped. Instead what happens in these 304 pages is not much of anything.

As with 1984, the biggest problem that faces this work is that the characters are as multi-dimensional and as affective as cardboard. Perhaps this is just my hang-up. Truth be told, I could appreciate a well-written novel that is boring as hell as long as the humans in it resemble humans. But in so much of this dystopian fiction that often appeals largely to guys there is no semblance of emotion. Perhaps I just left my guy card on the gay bus. Or I missed the writing class where I was supposed to learn about the effect of writing emotionless characters. I will admit that I'm in the minority. I just cannot understand what makes this kind of writing so popular. *Potential spoiler alert* For crying out loud, the man has lost his daughter and his wife and he wastes no time in banging his coworkers. Over and over and over and over and over again. Oh, here's your wife, Sam. 'That's nice, let me just finish with Marta here.' *End alert*

There seems to be a bit of symbolism in The Flame Alphabet; at least, that's what I hope all that Jewish stuff is. If I liked the story, I'd probably take the time to decipher it. But I didn't. So I won't.

The Flame Alphabet: Language can kill. How clever. It certainly can.