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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Vanishing Point

David Markson

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To purchase Vanishing Point

Title: Vanishing Point
Author: David Markson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004
Length: 191 pages
Availability: Vanishing Point - US
Vanishing Point - UK
Vanishing Point - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : clever and amusing, but not quite as convincing as the previous similar efforts

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 22/2/2004 Emily Nussbaum
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Summer/2004 Irving Malin
The Washington Post . 21/3/2004 Jennifer Howard

  From the Reviews:
  • "Our shadowy narrator seems to be struggling against time, and against his own material -- trying to erase his authorial presence, but leaving, despite (or because of) his best efforts, a trail of anxious footnotes in the sand. It's a structural trick that's both evocative and gimmicky." - Emily Nussbaum, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Vanishing Point busts our idea of a novel all to hell. It will endure for a long time, until some other writer creates a new kind of form." - Irving Malin, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "To Markson's great credit, he doesn't dismiss traditionalist expectations; he enlists them, inviting the reader to solve what amounts to a literary whodunit half-hidden in the anecdotal mosaic." - Jennifer Howard, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Vanishing Point is yet another Markson novel that, like the two preceding ones (Reader's Block and This is not a Novel), consists of titbits, observations, aracana, quotes, and the like. Entries are rarely more than two sentences long, and there are ten or so on every page. One of the first explains:

     Author had been scribbling the notes on three-by-five-inch index cards. They now come close to filling two shoebox tops taped together.
       These he tries to order in some meaningful and/or coherent way. He offers descriptions of the undertaking along the way, echoing his previous efforts -- or, in some cases, quoting directly, as when he describes his undertaking as he had in Reader's Block:
    Nonlinear. Discontinuous. Collage-like. An assemblage.
       It is:
    A seminonfictional semifiction.

    Obstinately cross-referential and of cryptic interconnective syntax.
       From the 'Reader' of Reader's Block to the 'Writer' of This is not a Novel, Markson has now moved on to 'Author', the central figure behind the texts -- though for much of it not a very prominent one in them. Author crops up every now and then but isn't -- or tries not to be -- the focus of the book. Ultimately, hwoever, he can't escape it: it is his creation, and he, as guiding hand behind it, is an integral part of it.
       The pieces of information offered to the reader generally revolve around the arts, and specifically artists. Recurring themes and subjects include: death and old age, above all, but also poverty, unrecognised and unacknowledged greatness, and unlikely greatness (writers with illiterate parents or who did poorly at school or didn't complete their educations). Sightings of the Wandering Jew pop up, chronologically following his trail to the end. Similarities are also noted: everything from artists who sat for the same portrait-painter to those who were illegitimate, etc. etc.
       The bits and pieces cover the time from the ancient Greeks to now. Contemporary references include Jonathan Franzen (quoted -- without attribution -- as saying: "I feel like I'm solidly in the high-art literary tradition") and the editor of Harper's:
    But now the garret is a thing of the past. A good writer is a rich writer, and a rich writer is a good writer.
    Proclaimed an awesomely cognizant, incomparably discerning magazine editor named Lewis Lapham ca. 2001.
       Even the events of 11 September 2001 get a mention.
       Among other things, Vanishing Point is about the role of art and the possibility of art in our times. Author's perspective is that of the artist -- and specifically the old artist, no longer in complete control of his body. He is concerned both about his own abilities and about what it means to be an artist.
       The brief bursts of information, covering the familiar and the bizarre, are generally entertaining; certainly, the narrative never bogs down. And, like the two previous volumes of what does amount to a trilogy, all this does add up to more than its parts. Still: it's a hard trick to pull off thrice.
       Vanishing Point is, perhaps, the final reductio ad absurdum, and Markson does, again, round it off nicely, but it doesn't hold quite the same power as Reader's Block or This is not a Novel. Still: a treat.

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Vanishing Point: Reviews: David Markson: Other books by David Markson under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction

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About the Author:

       American author David Markson was born in 1927 and died in 2010.

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© 2004-2021 the complete review

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