Townhouse Books

Friday, May 13, 2005

Reader's Block - David Markson

David Markson's writing is...unique.

For the past decade or so he's been writing books that only vaguely have a narrative structure, anything resembling characters, or any characteristics of fiction. They consist more and more of two-sentence bits of trivia about writers, scientists, and philosophers.

Reader's Block seems to be one of the earliest of Markson's novels written in this way. There are a few lines here and there that refer to "Reader" (Markson) and "Protagonist," who is the main character in a story that Reader is thinking about maybe, one day, writing. Actually, considering that we know so little about them, Reader and Protagonist are only barely characters and the little that we know about them tends to meld into the surrounding trivia.

The overall effect gives the reader a peek into what may be a parallel stream-of-consciousness to the two main characters. Or I may be reading too much into it, and the whole technique could be the result of a writer who has gotten lazy, who has become more interested in the particulars of other people's lives than in creating a novel.

Here's a taste of what Reader's Block is like:
Not one of the violent moments in Greek tragedy occurs on stage. Medea murdering her sons, for instance. Or Orestes bloodying Clytemnestra.

Does Reader yet know how long Protagonist has now been alone?
Who, when, the last woman in his life will have been?

Treat nature in terms of the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone.

Pio Baroja was an anti-Semite.

Melville. A little heterodox in the matter of clean linen.
Said Hawthorne.

And that's a typical section from page 70 in the trade paperback edition, if you're interested.

And so I realize that this review makes Markson's writing sound... obtuse. Or maybe just pretentious. But it's really good, and I mean really really good. It's like Infinite Jest, which I also love, in that the actual process of reading is intensely pleasurable, although what passes as a story isn't as affecting.

Also, if you're going to read it, which you totally should, try and set aside 2-3 hours and just read it straight through. Although many of the passages are entirely singular, many of them aren't, and there's a lot of repetition in subject and in description.


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  • Speaking of Infinite Jest, I started it on the plane this weekend. Page 65. So far, just going with the flow, but digging it very much.

    and in a group poking gentle fun at a friend in Florida wearing smart glasses minus lenses, I got to throw out "I believe the influence of Kierkegaard on Camus is underestimated...." Thanks DFW!

    By evt1618, at 4:17 PM  

  • Whatever you do, don't stop reading! I had to start that book over about five times.

    By Anna, at 4:21 PM  

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