Book Jones Books

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Hypotenuse of a Triangle

A Review of The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets by Kathleen Alcott

Typically, when I read a book, especially one that I plan to review, I will highlight passages throughout that I feel are important to the themes or that showcase the author's talent. In Kathleen Alcott's slim debut, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, I was tempted to highlight the entire text; and I don't necessarily mean that as a good thing. Believe me, I am not a plain prose advocate, I enjoy a poetical garnish or a clever literary device as much as the next man, but Ms. Alcott has a tendency to showcase her precious style in nearly every sentence. Read a paragraph at a time, it is palatable, often delectable, but sustained over the length of the novel, it's just too rich.

The story, narrated by Ida, the hypotenuse of a doomed love triangle, recounts the lifelong relationship between two west coast families entangled by apparently nothing more than their proximity to each other; of both habitation and loss. You see, one family has recently lost their matriarch, the other their patriarch, hence their two-way parasitic relationship. Ida, known as I, and Jackson, the prime subjects of the alphabetical caveat in the title,  meet and immediately fall in love. That they happen to be toddlers when this occurs is the catalyst of their excruciating bond. James, Jackson's little brother, completes the triad, but regrettably only in a supporting role. James too often plays the patsy; he's the upright leg of the right triangle, the one to lean on, and indeed the consolation prize. Is it any wonder that James is also the most damaged of the three, preferring the blur of amphetamines to the focus of reality?

Needing a lever of sorts, Ms. Alcott employs sleep disorder to unearth the deeply wedged psychic pain of her characters. At first it's sleep talking, telepathic communication between the somnolent brothers, that causes Ida to spotlight a little misguided if righteous suspicion on a questionable neighbor. Later, Jackson transitions to sleep walking, not your run-of-the-mill book-stacking, cookie-eating nobody-gets-hurt variety somnambulism, Jackson's forays into the night are outright violent. Some manifest in physical brutality some spill out in ink as beautifully grotesque drawings; a talent he cannot reproduce while awake. This behavior peaks during his and Ida's cohabitation in their early twenties, when Jackson's nocturnal battering can still be forgiven. But it's the artistic tangent his unconscious mind follows that in a way frees I and J from each other.

Though flawed and perhaps a bit trite, this first effort from Katherine Alcott is promising.  She, yet more than capable of writing a good sentence, would do well to attenuate her style. It's evident to her readers that she is a talented writer, no need to glut the page with proof. I look forward to her future work, perhaps with more emphasis on plot, less predictable behavior; more substance less flourish.
~Book Jones - 3 Stars


  • Title: The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets
  • Author: Kathleen Alcott
  • File Size: 1773 KB
  • Print Length: 225 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1590515293
  • Publisher: Other Press; 1st edition (September 11, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007RG4NKI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled 
  • X-Ray: Not Enabled 


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