Sarah Weinman reviews a David Markson Double:
Epitaph for a Tramp & Epitaph for a Dead Beat: The Harry Fannin Detective Novels
Shoemaker & Hoard: 378 pp., $14 paper
David Markson assured his place in literary history 20 years ago with the publication of "Wittgenstein's Mistress," a playful, dizzyingly intellectual novel full of cultural references that managed the neat trick of having narrative verve without a proper narrative structure. The 1988 book, rightfully considered his masterwork, marked a turning point for him by moving away from the Faulkner-esque style evident in his novels "Going Down" (1970) and "Springer's Progress" (1977) toward even greater narrative minimalism, as seen most recently in "This Is Not a Novel" (2001) and "Vanishing Point" (2004). Markson's oeuvre demands careful attention from the reader, but those who persist will be rewarded, if only by experiencing the peculiar sensation of a mind stretched beyond its usual limits to reveal a new network of connections, great and small.
Before Markson became the author of what he terms "semi-nonfictional semi-fictions," he was a struggling writer with a master's degree from Columbia, a couple of years' worth of reading slush-pile entries at Dell and Lion Books (two of the top pulp-fiction publishers of the postwar era), and several novels nowhere near completion. "I was always the person who was going to write 'Wittgenstein' and the others, but at that earlier juncture, I simply wasn't getting it done," Markson remarked in a 2005 interview. To support himself, he relied on his acquired knowledge of the conventions of crime fiction to concoct three of what he calls "entertainments" that were originally published by his first employer, Dell.