Vanishing Point: A Novel Paperback – Jan 15 2004
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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.
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Its true. Reading Markson is like a validation of one's education. The reader encounters the known and the faintly known in precise, almost monadic, moments. Read morePublished on March 9 2004 by Arthur Craven
Markson has created something wonderful in his latest work. The idea of an elderly author gathering up all these little tidbits in order to compose what may turn out to be his... Read morePublished on Feb. 16 2004 by Sammy
i loved this narrative. anyone who finds rilke's date of death an important detail has my undying attention.
the author is a great voice.
a poet's dream.