In David Markson, backward motion is as important as forward motion.
The Millions just published Ann Beatie’s introduction to a new combined edition of David Markson’s last three novels: This is Not a Novel, Vanishing Point, and The Last Novel. (Yes, I’m aware the word “novel” appears three times in that sentence – it would appear twice more if I had included the name of the new edition – but perhaps the use of the word is more emphatic than repetitious: one reads Markson and is consistently aware – or at least interrogative – of how Markson plays with that word, “novel,” of how he stretches it into something new.) If you’re not aware of Markson, then, well, I’d highly suggest that you read him. Wittgenstein’s Mistress, a book that by all accounts marked a turning point for Markson’s fiction and that David Foster Wallace memorably called “pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country,” is one of those books that reverberates: I still think about it at least once a week, a year and a half after reading it for the first time. A re-read has become more and more enticing, but I think I’d like to read the rest of his work before coming back to it. Whatever the case, Mistress remains one of the most intellectually stimulating and most moving books I’ve encountered, a combination that is all too rare, I think. From what I’ve heard, his other novels continue in that tradition.