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This Is Not a Novel

by David Markson, (Counterpoint Press, 188 pp., $15)


David Markson's This Is Not a Novel starts with the phrase, "Writer is pretty much tempted to quit writing." Then, on the next line, we read, "Writer is weary to death of making up stories." Learning that "Writer" is equally tired of inventing characters, he lays out that his aim is "a novel with no intimation of story whatsoever ... and with no characters. None. Yet seducing the reader into turning the pages, nonetheless." As materials for this seduction, Writer mentions the names of famous authors, adding details here and there, mostly about their deaths. Every page of this book consists of widely spaced sentences that follow the same pattern: "Robert Lowell and Truman Capote wrote lying down/Writer sits/Jens Peter Jacobsen died of tuberculosis/Contemporary architecture is basically a bore." That is from Page 81. By Page 145, however, things have livened up considerably: "As a Marine pilot in Korea, Ted Williams several times flew as Colonel John Glenn's wing man/Sophocles played ball with great skill, it says in Athenaeus/He alters and retouches the same phrases incessantly, and paces up and down like a madman, reported a pupil of Chopin's/Stanislaus Joyce died of a heart condition at Seventy. On Bloomsday."

Without wanting to give too much away, Reviewer cannot resist revealing the surprising twist on Page 168: "Samuel Pepys once smacked his wife in the eye. In point of fact, on December 19, 1664./And so to bed./Salvatore Quasimodo died of a cerebral hemorrhage./I shall look as if I were dead, and that will not be true./Zara Dolukhanova. Irina Arkhipova./Tchitchikov." Though Reviewer would have preferred that Writer had written "Irina Arkhipova" before "Zara Dolukhanova," this is but a quibble in an otherwise perfect passage. The addition of "Tchitchikov" on the next line is clearly a misstep, however. It would have been much better placed on Page 89, between the phrases: "Pericles died of the plague" and "Stefan Lochner purchased a house in Cologne in 1442." These criticisms aside, Markson's book is by far the best book without characters, plot, sense, poetry, humor, suspense, insight or purpose ever written.

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