Ben Marcus at MARS: Addicted to Literature

“It’s just too dangerous now to take a lot of drugs. I got a job, I got kids… I’m just too busy. I can’t take those amazing drugs because I know I have to teach tomorrow,” Ben Marcus said. “But I was thinking about how these stories actually change you biologically; they can make you scared, they can make you delighted, they can confuse you…all the things we look to in drug use.”

Ben Marcus stepped onto the podium and started the second Major Authors Reading Series (MARS) by reading “The Loyalty Protocol,” extracted from his last book “Leaving the Sea.” A full Hayden Hall auditorium was his public from start to end, confirming the talent and popularity he has, no matter age or origin.

“The phone call said to come alone, but he couldn’t just leave them,” was the first line of a story set in a neighborhood that is carrying out a drill for a disaster. The main character, Edward, receives the order of leaving his parents at home, unleashing a series of distinct reactions among the family and emotions felt by the main character regarding a girl he has never talked to.

This plot presents a perfect example of the satiric style Marcus uses in often-complicated relations between relatively simple and real people within his stories.

“I think about the reader all the time and wonder how to reach people, but in the end, if I think it is not interesting or funny or entertaining to me, I don’t know how else to [reach people],” he said. “So I try to write for myself and then I hope that there are a bunch of other freaks like me.”

Strong vocabulary and tragedies are part of his writing style, which submerges a fictional plot in a real world.

“I never really read a collection that had straight forward ‘real’ and fiction too, and I realized I like both,” Marcus said. “I like the idea that you’re not sure what this place really is, but I don’t like the idea of saying, ‘set in the imaginary planet Zargon.’ That is clearly imaginary and the reader can actually stop caring about it.”

This subtlety and precision of knowing the exact point where fiction is too imaginary and reality is too crude makes reading Marcus a delight and, unfortunately reflects society’s cruelness and unconsciousness.

To finish the session, Marcus answered some questions from the student body and faculty members regarding topics such as inspiration, favorite authors and writing advice. Interesting points of view were discussed, the main one being how these days education has a positive or negative impact in youth, and the way new writers can help this transition process.

The initial quote shows the freedom and freshness these types of authors, especially Marcus, bring to literature, discarding the myth of that unreachable and wise author. He, as the past MARS reader Jen McClanaghan, unmasks how ordinary people are able to express their feelings through any form of literature: poetry, novels or short stories.

“Literature actually creates pretty lasting feelings in me,” Marcus said. “Like this certain drug effect in eight minutes, and then is followed by this horrible, horrible regret and shame and disgust; like a hangover that I take for life.”