I recently read David Markson’s THIS IS NOT A NOVEL and am still digesting it. It is a piece of experimental fiction and it a real page turner, which I found remarkable given it’s format. The story, and I call it a story because there is a trajectory; the reader at the end is in a different place than when he began by following the actions (in this case thoughts) of the main character (in this case the narrator/”writer”).
I include the preceding parenthetical explanations because the format of the story is a list of facts. Facts, mostly about artists and writer. In someone else’s hands this would be one of those gift books of trivia usually found at the register to encourage impulse buys. But Markson crafts this format into an actual story and in doing so creates a new form of storytelling. How many authors can say that? Who created the play, the poem, the novel, etc? But Markson has created the fictional list as story, where the writer is the main character and through his list we see what is bothering him, his thoughts, and even his actions.
Granted, the exercise could have been more concise. Not every factoid adds directly to the story, but the trivia itself was compelling enough so that I could not put the book down. And since I finished it, not only do I continue to wonder about the form and how the piece worked as a whole, but I also keep going back and trying to remember the little bits of trivia Markson dug up.
To the best that I can tell, all the trivia in THIS IS NOT A NOVEL are true, but I certainly will not claim this for sure. But for Markson to take all these little pieces and collage them into a story and in doing so creating a new fictional framework, well, it is an astounding accomplishment. And with it conceptually interesting and at the same time page-turningly entertaining, it is in a class by itself.