Book Review: The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets

November 30, 2012

Kathleen Alcott’s debut work, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is stunning, and thrills on a sentence by sentence level. The insight she offers through prose is striking at times, and brilliant, with much more depth and maturity than you’d expect from a first-time novelist. It stands as an excellent example of talented debut writing.

The book examines the complicated relationship between Ida, and two boys she grew up with, brothers, Jackson and James. Ida and Jackson find themselves in various stages of love, as best friends in childhood, and then as tumultuous lovers. However, the premise of the book is more intriguing than simply an examination of complicated relationships. There is a tragic death, a sick parent, and the crafty addition of somnambulism, much to the pleasure of readers. While the work as a whole is entirely satisfying, my favorite parts of the novel were Alcott’s scenes regarding the characters’ childhoods, primarily the introduction of the sleepwalking brothers. Ida’s realization that the brothers are linked by some familial bond within sleep emphasizes one of the many recurring themes in The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets: the boundaries of family and love. Ida recognizes that although she’s as close as an outsider to the family can be, she’ll never share this brotherly bond. Similarly, the plot construction of somnambulism provides a thread for Ida and Jackson’s relationship as they become adults. Ida’s desire to understand, or make use of, Jackson’s sleepwalking is a deft example of how we push toward the people we love in flawed ways, despite our best intentions.

Alcott’s novel is a lyrical treat. She is a true literary talent and skilled beyond her years. I eagerly look forward to reading more of her work.


At The Masters Review, our mission is to support emerging writers. We only accept submissions from writers who can benefit from a larger platform: typically, writers without published novels or story collections or with low circulation. We publish fiction and nonfiction online year-round and put out an annual anthology of the ten best emerging writers in the country, judged by an expert in the field. We publish craft essays, interviews and book reviews and hold workshops that connect emerging and established writers.

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