Review

The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets

by Kathleen Alcott

The phrase “proximal alphabets” refers to the names of three odd people whose bonds form the focus of this unique, darkly rich debut. Ida, Jackson and James are a thick-as-thieves trio who remain so throughout their early childhoods and adolescence, well into the majority of their adult lives. The destructive power of their love begins to take on a life of its own, however, becoming evident in their earliest years and morphing into a thing that becomes ever more haunting and malicious, a force that quite literally tears them apart from the inside.

This tale centers primarily on the intimate relationships of Ida as a child and a woman, beginning with a misguided, irrational girl who stumbles throughout her early years rather violently and erratically, after witnessing the death of her mother and living with the despondence of a lonely father. Ida’s earliest experiences jump between her many tortuous and insensitive thoughts and acts, leading to some predictable consequences, all of which reveal her deepest inner need to escape life itself.

"The content is certainly visceral, gritty and blunt, but there are also deep insights and many interesting questions raised. This book on the unbreakable nature of destructive forms of love will surprise and captivate many readers, particularly those who enjoy dark fiction and gritty modern literature."

She invites suffering in all its forms and seems content to fill herself with desperate obsessions. The greatest of these is her lifelong obsession for a boy with whom she lived as a sibling but is not related to by blood; no person on Earth knows her better than Jackson, who is quite unfortunately mutually obsessed with her, and their path together becomes a nightmare.

Yet even while the pair shares some critical dysfunctions that stem from deep within, the two do operate on the same plane, which is why it lasts so long. Being perfectly willing to lie to themselves and one another, they remain remarkably unaware of the degree to which they’ve sunk, and all the damage they’ve done to their loved ones.

As children, the two were inseparable, crazy in love from the beginning. They felt an almost miserable need to satiate their electric bond. With a fury, the relationship propelled itself forward, and interestingly, that point of critical mass seemed to come with high hormones and early adolescence. The sexual explorations of Ida and Jackson begin startlingly young and progress precociously into a fierce, vaguely glorious, troublingly violent need. The effect of senseless, repeated exhibitionism on young James never enters their minds. These exposures, living and watching the two of them fill their addictive needs, leads to serious emotional harm in James, and to Jackson taking on some odd personality traits.

But it can be safely said that Ida and Jackson do love one another, at least in some ways. Undeniably, they have always felt as one, as if they share a common soul. As Ida skips forward aimlessly through the years, willingly and freely forgiving her lovers’ constant indiscretions, psychological instabilities and directionless life, somehow she knows he’s full of as much pain as she is, and she does expect to be forgiven in turn for tolerating what he does.

Ida knows her pursuits are addictive --- endlessly so. But the cardinal rule of keeping secrets holds up the lie. One day, the two find they’ve lied to themselves for so long it doesn’t even frighten Ida anymore when Jackson begins wandering into ever-more-frequently violent states of somnambulistic crimes, verging on the demonic. The day after, he always seems vaguely aware of what he’s been up to, though he denies any firm knowledge. But his rage runs deep and becomes more and more disturbing to witness, even in his waking states. At some point, Ida realizes it is only questionably subconscious behavior on his part, as at times, Jackson seems to know the score quite well.

THE DANGERS OF PROXIMAL ALPHABETS is quite an intriguing debut about a unique subject. The flowing prose and artistic appeal of the writing are impressive, and despite the complex, extraordinarily dark nature of the material, the book takes some very interesting turns and entertains. It is poetically written and easily readable, a credit to a talented writer. The content is certainly visceral, gritty and blunt, but there are also deep insights and many interesting questions raised. This book on the unbreakable nature of destructive forms of love will surprise and captivate many readers, particularly those who enjoy dark fiction and gritty modern literature.

Reviewed by Melanie Smith on October 22, 2012

The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets
by Kathleen Alcott

  • Publication Date: September 11, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press
  • ISBN-10: 1590515293
  • ISBN-13: 9781590515297