Began rereading 'Notable American Women' today. I do remember that the opening letter from Ben's father is a bit slowgoing as an opening, but still made me laugh and/or amused and/or provoked.
Here is a quote I like from that section (pg 15), which is pretty definitive of the language used here (one of the main reasons I admire the book):
"A father is pleased anytime a son can regulate his busily superficial mind for the time required to command a book's worth of language to the page. Such a feat is particularly notable, given the aforementioned mental challenges of the son, when it can barely be expected that the son remember to bring potatoes to the underground area where his father waits to be fed. When his only task is to bring a potato to his goddamned father, or to let new air into his father's area, where the old air has already been used, because there is a living man down here!, or to to walk his father up above when his father has gone months, motherfucker, without seeing a house, a stick, a bird, a window, a road, the key objects of our time, when his father has no new air to clean his eyes and rid his skin of the language fluid poured in by the man with the tube, who speaks his Sentences of Menace, trying to burst the father's body with words. Let a man wash himself, and stride in the open air, for fuck's sake! Given his systematic incompetence and neglect of the one person he was born to live, how can a single word from Ben Marcus's rotten, filthy heart be trusted?"
Strange, yes, and non-narrative, but I think the passage is funny and works well, particularly leading into the surrealist text that follows.
While searching earlier today I found an interesting list of writing prompts Marcus used with his students while teaching at Brown. read here. some of them are clearly generative of Notable American Women itself, particularly #5: Design a religion. This could include a theory of creation (How did we get here? How did something come from nothing?), a system of rules and punishments, moral do’s and don’ts, clothing, architecture, prayers, etc.. You could instead write a story in which the characters practice a new religion — it does not have to be the subject of the story, but it can be used to generate interesting behaviors and ideas in your work. If you think of religion as a successful fiction — a set of provocative ideas that have satisfied the hardest questions of a group of people — you might better determine how to make a religion that might come close to satisfying you. When we consider the fiction writer as someone who provides necessary myths to the culture, we see that devising a religion might very well be an appropriate task.
I don't much like writing to prompts myself, but they can be useful for thinking sometimes, and interesting at least to apply to Marcus's thought process in his own work.