The word is out on the internet today that American novelist David Markson has died at the age of 82.
I encountered Markson's work one morning while waiting my turn at the old fart barber shop I frequent. I try to get there just before 7 AM so there will be no wait, but this time a family with three boys arrived even earlier. Looking with dismay at the collection of rifle and golfing magazines on the rack, I was surprised to find a copy of New York Magazine, with a cover story promising The 100 Best Authors You Have Never Heard Of.
I settled back to take a look, and the New York Magazine editors were right. For the most part I had never heard of these people, and I had certainly never read them. Hands down the number one choice of those interviewed for the article was David Markson, whom I thought I had never heard of until I saw that he wrote Wittgenstein's Mistress (1988), a book I clearly remembered seeing remaindered some twenty years ago.
Nothing they had to say about Markson implied that I would ever read him. The word "experimental" cropped up frequently, and I usually avoid things so labeled. But then again, he was number one on the list.
I got from the library Wittgenstein's Mistress and This is Not a Novel.
Wittgenstein's Mistress is told through the voice of a woman who is convinced that she is the last woman on earth, which she may actually be. Her internal monologue is dense with references to literature and art, maintains a continuous hum of low-level threat, and reads like Daniel Deronda compared the other Markson works.
This is Not a Novel is in Markson's mature style. It is a 190 page miscellany of statements on authors and artists that are consistently interesting or amusing in themselves, and that by their refusal to fall into any particularly coherent pattern, develop a rhythm that keeps you, well, not exactly glued to the page, but reading nonetheless. At least that was my experience.
I now own copies of all David Markson novels, with the exception of some mysteries and westerns he cranked out early in his career. I own them all, but I have only read the two that originally came from the library. Maybe I'll read the others now, or soon, or sometime, maybe.
But I recommend him. The uniqueness factor cannot be overstated here, nor are they difficult reads. They are no more experimental and easier to read than say William Burrough's novels. But of course they lack the drugs and the sodomy.
Here is a link to just one of the recent tributes to Markson. It has with it links to dozens more.
I also, in the same New York Magazine article, encountered for the first time the name of Andre Aciman. Call Me By Your Name is one of the most beautifully written novels I have ever read.