Monday, January 29, 2007

Another Reprint Worth Looking For

Sarah Weinman reviews a David Markson Double:

Epitaph for a Tramp & Epitaph for a Dead Beat
: The Harry Fannin Detective Novels
David Markson
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.


Anonymous said...

I remember reading Markson's crime novels when they first came out. As I recall the storylines weren't anything new and some of the writing was standard overwrought tough guy stuff but for long stretches there was this voice that didn't belong in standard issue anything. A real street voice in the best sense. I didn't know anything about Markson at the time but I watched for the follow up crime novels that never came. He could certainly have been a contenda in our little field. --Ed Gorman

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed those p.i. novels, which reminded me a little of Ross Macdonald in the plotting. But then I kind of liked his western, Dirty Dingus Magee, too.

Sarah Weinman said...

It would have been interesting if, in a parallel universe, Markson had stayed in crime fiction. But he never had any intention of doing so and the disinterest he had in plotting a mystery is so clear that it would make me smile.

Interesting factoid: for many, many years he was married to Elaine Markson, who eventually became a pretty high-powered literary agent (and in fact, still represents her ex-husband.)