Epitaph For a Novel

MarksonOne of my favorite authors is David Markson. I was introduced to Markson’s work while taking a creative writing coursetaught by Peter Marcus. Marcus gave me the image of Markson hoarding shoe-box after file cabinet stuffed with little slips of paper and the odd gum wrapper or two with carefully collected factoids written neatly on the available white space. Look at these titles for Markson’s later fiction:

  • Reader’s Block, 1996.
  • This Is Not a Novel, 2001.
  • Vanishing Point, 2004.
  • The Last Novel, 2007.

Here is where all those factoids ended up, carefully arranged and, although seemingly random, telling a story about the life of the writer in four novels. If you are of the stodgy old school that thinks a novel must have a plot and characters, dialogue and at least one theme, then Markson might be problematic. Still I highly recommend that you at least try one of the novels: start with Reader’s Block (they’re all fascinating but function best when read in order).

A review at Goggle Books may make this more clear:

This Is Not a Novel is a highly inventive work which drifts
"genre-less," somewhere in between fiction, nonfiction, and
psychological memoir. In the opening pages of the "novel,"
a narrator, called only "Writer," announces that he is tired
of inventing characters, contemplating plot, setting, theme,
and conflict. Yet the writer is determined to seduce the reader
into turning pages-and to "get somewhere," nonetheless.
What follows are pages crammed with short lines of astonishingly
fascinating literary and artistic anecdotes, quotations, and
cultural curiosities. This Is Not a Novel is leavened with
Markson's deliciously ironic wit and laughter, so that when the
writer does indeed finally get us "somewhere" it's the journey
will have mattered as much as the arrival.

But Markson also has written some popular genre fiction and a serious novel or two. The bibliography continues:

  • Epitaph for a Tramp, 1959.
  • Epitaph for a Dead Beat, 1961.
  • The Ballad of Dingus Magee; Being the Immortal True Saga of the Most Notorious and Desperate Bad Man of the Olden Days, His Blood-Shedding, His Ruination of Poor Helpless Females, & Cetera, 1965.
  • Miss Doll, Go Home, 1965.
  • Going Down, 1970.
  • Springer’s Progress, 1977.
  • Malcolm Lowry’s Volcano: Myth, Symbol, Meaning, 1978.
  • Wittgenstein’s Mistress, 1988.
  • Collected Poems, 1993.

Although I truly disliked Going Down, I found Springer’s Progress and Wittgenstein’s Mistress excellent novels and can highly recommend them. Recently I have gone back to read those genre fictions Markson wrote at the beginning of his career, finishing Epitaph For a Dead Beat just the other day.

MarksonWhat do I think of Markson’s pulp fiction? Well, even Thomas Pynchon has ventured into the realm of popular fiction with Inherent Vice and I can conclude that Markson isn’t as convoluted or sloppy as Pynchon but his hard-boiled detective plots are fairly simple to resolve … a little too early in the book for my taste. Markson, however, does bring a sense of literate writing to his work and you have to admit that they are fun to read.

I remember when I was in High School reading at least one out-and-out spoof of the detective genre. At the time it must have been pretty funny but now I’d probably find it sophomoric. Markson’s detective isn’t silly—the novels are not written for laughs—but there is still a lighter, more entertaining aspect to them. Besides, they’re probably much better written than all those stories hanging on the wire-rack down at the drugstore.

I think I’ll add a classicMickey Spillane novel to my reading list.

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