One 2004 book that seems to have been entirely overlooked by all the end-of-the-year listmakers is David Markson’s Vanishing Point. (Full confession: I’m just as guilty, having only just hit Markson’s latest on my bookpile.) Nevertheless, Markson deserves some special consideration, given how he’s mastered the ability to juxtapose obscure personal tidbits involving artistic figures against the emotional dilemma of the “Author.” (For example, “David Garrick, retiring from the stage: Now I will sit and read Shakespeare.”)
This is the kind of cultural obsession that almost anyone who reads thinks about to some degree. That Markson’s tidbits are both fascinating and unsourced almost lends his work to compulsive fact-ferreting among the truly obsessed “Jesus, did that really happen?” scholars. (In fact, Markson’s phrasing reminds me of Don Marquis’s poetry with its seemingly simple gimmick masking a deeper emotional patina.) But Vanishing Point (much like This is Not a Novel and Reader’s Block) also addresses the broader problem of how literary culture often marginalizes the art in favor of the artists’ lives. How far removed are we really from the People subscribers? In dwelling upon the personal foibles of high cultural icons, are we groping for an existential meaning that we lack?
These are the bold questions that Vanishing Point and Markson in general dares to unfurl. But even if you’re not into this kind of obsessive probing (although you probably will be), Vanishing Point is still a supremely enjoyable novel.
(Also, happy anniversary, Mr. Syntax of Things.)