What should we read on the longest, brightest days of the year? Publishers’ answers for June are counterintuitively gloomy. Before the season of more lighthearted travels, this month’s books follow quests and journeys of a downbeat kind—with the occasional glimmer of light.
Aside from his cult experimental story collection The Age of Wire and String, Ben Marcus is best-known for a fractious essay in Harper’s magazine attacking Jonathan Franzen’s bestselling novels for being just too easy and enjoyable to read. The Flame Alphabet (Granta, £14.99)—“an urban ironist’s reply to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road,” in the words of novelist Jonathan Lethem—seems determined not to relinquish this reputation for difficulty. In the novel’s dystopian future America, first children’s speech, then all language, becomes fatally poisonous to adults. Amid the carnage that ensues, one suburban Jewish father, Samuel, embarks on a desperate search for a cure. In obedience to the gruesome plot, skin