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Vanishing Point: A Novel [Paperback]

David Markson
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 15 2004
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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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Following his last novel, the wryly titled This Is Not a Novel (2001), Markson offers another thought-provoking work that extends and challenges the traditional novel form by stringing together snippets of information ranging from quotes by artists and writers to trivia about historical figures to commentary on current news events. The premise is that "The Author," as the narrator refers to himself, is assembling a box of note cards full of information he has gathered over the years with the hope of forging a novel. Life then imitates art as Markson literally accomplishes what his narrator hopes to: he creates a novel out of fragments of ideas and information. Vanishing Point feels a little like a literary Trivial Pursuit, or the associative stream of consciousness produced by a surrealist party game, and it's just as entertaining. Markson deserves great credit for his literary experimentation, which will appeal to open-minded readers who welcome a fresh and witty approach to narration. Janet St. John
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Author has finally started to put his notes into manuscript form. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Markson is a Master Feb. 21 2004
I picked up this book a bit apprehensively, being aware of Markson's experimental style of narration. How could this possibly be termed a "novel" if it is merely a collection of facts from literature, history, music, politics, philosophy and religion? On a foundation such as this, how can one build the basic elements of plot, character and setting? As I read the book, however, I found myself marvelling at Markson's unique skill and vision. The "Author" of the novel arranges his massive collection of information in such a way that the elements in question are completed in the mind of the reader, like looking at an incomplete picture and mentally filling in the blanks. By the end of the book, I was acutely aware of having been moved - remarkably by a superficially disjointed series of anecdotes. Like Author, I was unwittingly swept into the vaguely existant narrative and pressed together the covers with a satisfying sense of enrichment. The flawless blend of tragedy, humor, ambition and madness in the world of human creativity (and destruction) remind the reader of the pleasures and pains of being in touch with truth. Markson will be remembered for this one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vanishing Point May 31 2004
David Markson's latest book, Vanishing Point, is unlike any novel I've ever read. Like Markson's other works, it is avante-garde, experimental and highly original. It has no narrative or plot to speak of, yet conveys its theme in a remarkably engaging fashion.
The novel begins by telling us that "Author has finally started to put his notes into manuscript form," that he has been scribbling notes onto 3x5 index cards and that the cards now fill two shoeboxes. With that, the novel launches into nearly 200 pages of the scribblings and notes themselves. The notes are a seemingly random reiteration of trivia and musings concerning art, literature, history, science and civilization. Sometimes the notes contain anecdotes or facts; at other times the notes consist of little more than a name or phrase. Gradually, we learn that Author is elderly, enervated and without motivation to do much more than rearrange the order of the cards. Here and there, we learn what Author has in mind --"a novel of intellectual reference and allusion...minus much of the novel." A sense of order begins to appear and the theme emerges that everything is sliding toward death.
This novel is never boring and, despite its formlessness, is actually quite difficult to put down. There is an almost addictive quality to the notes. Markson's protagonists are often isolated and almost hermetically sealed off from social contact and relationships. Yet these characters have genuine insight into the human condition and express humanist feelings. The protagonist in this novel is no exception. By the book's end, I found myself laughing with and shedding a tear over a sparsely-developed, unnamed character whose inner life I was only allowed to glimpse through a collection of jotted notes. In that sense, Vanishing Point is an amazing work.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Your Usual Novel May 14 2004
It seems that "Author" has been collecting materials for his next novel on 3x5 index cards, and is about ready to start pulling the book together, but somehow he can't do it. We are presented with the cards--snippets of history, criticism, lines of poetry, dates, places where famous people died, dates when famous people died, snide remarks of famous people about other famous people, thoughts about death and dying, phrases in Italian, French, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew.
This is not a novel in any conventional sense. There is no plot, there are no characters, there are no chapters. Nothing happens. The book is an extended meditation on the transitoriness of life and fame. Snippets and sayings and epigrams and bon mots from the ages. One senses that the "Author" is an old Jewish man, who has spent his life immersed in literature, art, poetry and history. He reveals little else about himself.
The actual Author, David Markson, is obviously a man of great erudition. Whether he is a good writer, I really cannot say. I know that the book was hard to finish, tedious, with moments of high entertainment and humor. I'm glad that I finished it, but I can say, it's not for everyone. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Link To The Past April 20 2004
David Markson is one of the most well read and literary people I know. Conrad Aiken, Malcolm Lowry, William Gaddis, and Frederick Exley were among his friends. He is the author of Wittgenstein's Mistress, which Ann Beattie has called "An absolute masterpiece." He is also the author of Springer's Progress and Reader's Block. He has lived in Greenwich Village for almost fifty years.
Markson was a big reader of literary allusions and quotations. When he first read Under The Volcano, he wrote a fan letter to Malcolm Lowry. They met in Canada a while letter. Markson went on a personal crusade to draw attention to Lowry's work: "Which is why I wrote a master's thesis (at Columbia) on Lowry's Under The Volcano only four years after it was published, for instance, when nobody else had written anything except the original reviews, and so I had the allusions all to myself to dig out."
Markson was also the first person to give William Gaddis' The Recognitions its high rank also. He called it the most important American novel since Moby Dick? "Actually it was just a throwaway passage in an old detective novel I wrote," Markson confesses, "but there too it was only three years after Gaddis had published. I'm delighted, or even honored, when I'm still given credit for it.
Although he would give his right arm to have written The Recognitions, Markson is looks down at Gaddis' later work: "That business of the nonstop conversation, with all the repetitions and digressions and so forth that are supposed to be precisely like real life--except that art is selectivity, damn it. I read an interview where he talked about authorial absense, but what happens instead is that what he hopes will sound natural simply sounds faked.
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