Artist Projects

The Flame Alphabet


Ben Marcus

In The Flame Alphabet, a terrible epidemic has struck the country and the sound of children’s speech has become lethal. Radio transmissions from strange sources indicate that people are going into hiding. All Sam and Claire need to do is look around the neighborhood: In the park, parents wither beneath the powerful screams of their children. At night, suburban side streets become routes of shameful escape for fathers trying to get outside the radius of affliction. With Claire nearing collapse, it seems their only means of survival is to flee from their daughter, Esther, who laughs at her parents’ sickness, unaware that in just a few years she, too, will be susceptible to the language toxicity. But Sam and Claire find it isn’t so easy to leave the daughter they still love, even as they waste away from her malevolent speech. On the eve of their departure, Claire mysteriously disappears, and Sam, determined to find a cure for this new toxic language, presses on alone into a world beyond recognition.


The Flame Alphabet, which was published by Alfred A. Knopf in January 2012, invites the question: What is left of civilization when we lose the ability to communicate with those we love?

Project Updates

  • 2012: The Flame Alphabet is published in wide release by Alfred A. Knopf

  • 2011: Excerpts of The Flame Alphabet will appear in the December issue of Harper’s and the winter 2012 issue of BOMB

  • 2010: Marcus completes a second revision of The Flame Alphabet and prepares the final draft