In the literary world, there is little that can match the excitement of opening a new book by David Markson. From Wittgenstein’s Mistress to Reader’s Block to Springer’s Progress to This Is Not a Novel, he has delighted and amazed readers for decades. And now comes his latest masterwork, Vanishing Point, wherein an elderly writer (identified only as "Author") sets out to transform shoeboxes crammed with notecards into a novel and in so doing will dazzle us with an astonishing parade of revelations about the trials and calamities and absurdities and often even tragedies of the creative life and all the while trying his best (he says) to keep himself out of the tale. Naturally he will fail to do the latter, frequently managing to stand aside and yet remaining undeniably central throughout until he is swept inevitably into the narrative’s starting and shattering climax. A novel of death and laughter both and of extraordinary intellectual richness.
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How few of a story's details can one tell and still tell a story? David Markson's new novel, Vanishing Point, doesn't directly ask that question. It doesn't do a lot of things. It doesn't deliver a linear narrative -- no this happened, then that. It doesn't provide any hard biographical or situational detail about its main character-narrator (if a story without an obvious story can be said to have a narrator at all -- "compiler" or simply "subject" might be a better term). It doesn't even give him a proper name, referring to him only as Author. In other words, it rejects most of the trappings of conventional fiction. And still it delivers more narrative satisfaction than any number of painfully observed contemporary-realist novels do.
This is what we know: "Author has finally started to put his notes into manuscript form." Inference: He's at work on a book. "Author had been scribbling the notes on three-by-five-inch index cards. They now come close to filling two shoebox tops taped together end to end." Inference: The project has been under way for some time. "Actually, Author could have begun to type some weeks ago. For whatever reason, he's been procrastinating." Inference: The writing's not going well, as writing so often doesn't.
As he did in his previous books This Is Not a Novel and Reader's Block, Markson builds Vanishing Point out of anecdotes -- in this case, presumably the stuff of Author's index cards. The bits and pieces appear to have little in common other than brevity and certain preoccupations: the quirks, failings and eccentricities of writers, artists and composers; art's strange but necessary tenure in the world. None takes up more than a short paragraph, and some don't even occupy a full sentence: "The world as perceived by Rimbaud: Full of grocers." "Every poet is a fool. Which is not to say that every fool is a poet. Said Coleridge." Some could be taken as inspirational: "For art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments' sake." Many more have a graveyard slant: "Glen Ellen, California, Jack London died in." . . . "I have wasted my hours. Said Leonardo at the end of his life."
"Obstinately cross-referential and of cryptic interconnective syntax" is how Author describes the work in one of his very few direct comments. "Probably by this point more than apparent -- or surely for the attentive reader. As should be Author's experiment to see how little of his own presence he can get away with throughout."
The human brain scrambles after pattern recognition; it's programmed to make sense, to make stories, out of the raw material given it. From the first page, the reader of Vanishing Point begins to look for connections -- to write the story that Author seems unable or unwilling to write. It's a meditation on the creative process -- no, on the quixotic nature of creative endeavor -- no, on the fallibility of greatness -- no, it's an extended memento mori. All are plausible explanations; none feels bedrock certain. If one just thinks about it a little harder, finds one more connecting thread, maybe all will become clear.
In less whimsical and generous hands, this could come across as an extended authorial tease, one of those I'm-smarter-than-you avant-gardist ploys designed to embarrass readers who want to draw predictable parameters of plot and character around every story. To Markson's great credit, he doesn't dismiss traditionalist expectations; he enlists them, inviting the reader to solve what amounts to a literary whodunit half-hidden in the anecdotal mosaic. What's up with Author anyway? Possible clues accumulate. "One reason for Author's procrastination is that he seems not to have had much energy lately, to tell the truth. For work, or for much of anything else." . . . "Actually, more than his persistent tiredness, what has started to distress Author lately is the way he has found himself scuffing his feet when he walks. But also the singular small missteps he sometimes unexpectedly takes. As if his Adidas have whims of their own."
Is it imagination that the stream of anecdotes begins to feel like a flood? Can it be meaningless that quotes from "Hamlet," particularly from Ophelia's mad scene, creep into the text? Is it a narrative vanishing point, or Author's own, that the title points toward? Those are the questions. The answers, dear reader, are yours for the taking, and a strangely delightful experience it is, too.
Reviewed by Jennifer Howard
From Publishers Weekly:
Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.
With his seventh novel, Markson, an avant-garde favorite for works like Wittgenstein's Mistress, which David Foster Wallace called "pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country," proves once again that his trademark fragmental style yields boundless meditations on the mythologized lives of great artists and thinkers, as well as the somewhat hapless project of constructing and controlling a novel. Author, who began the book with two shoeboxes full of notes, only rears his head occasionally, to mention that he's a procrastinator, that he's "damnably tired" and physically clumsy "as if his Adidas had whims of their own," and that despite his best efforts to arrange his notes, he has no idea where the book is headed. Yet for all his supposed relinquishing of control, he's omnipresent and clearly omnipotent, steering the narrative into increasingly murky waters. As the novel progresses, he includes more and more references to the deaths of artists ("Devon, Jean Rhys died in," "Heidegger was buried in the same small-town German cemetery he had passed every day... eight decades before") and the book's quotes, once neatly attributed to anyone from Plutarch to Dorothy Parker, disintegrate in the latter half, not always attributed, littering the once sturdy narrative like so much detritus at sea. We are left wondering, as Author does, "Where can the book possibly wind up without him?" Striking, devilishly playful ("If on a winter's night with no other source of warmth Author were to burn a Julian Schnabel, qualms? Qualmless") and with a deeply philosophical core, this novel proves once more that Markson deserves his accolades and then some.
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Descripción Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Nº de ref. de la librería DADAX1593760108
Descripción Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Never used!. Nº de ref. de la librería P111593760108