Vol. XXVII, #3 New Australian Fiction
Review of Contemporary Fiction
Epitaph for a Tramp & Epitaph for a Dead Beat, by David Markson
reviewed by David Cozy
Shoemaker & Hoard, 2007. 377 pp. Paper: $14.00. Reprint.
Cecil Day Lewis as Nicholas Blake, Julian Barnes as Dan Kavanagh, John Banville as Benjamin Black: the list of literary luminaries who have written thrillers on the side could go on. The re-release of Epitaph for a Tramp and Epitaph for a Dead Beat, originally published almost fifty years ago, reminds us that David Markson (as David Markson) has done some slumming too, and that, like his fellow moonlighters, Markson was not, when writing pulp, attempting to produce literature. Markson’s work divides so neatly into two stacks that no one could mistakenly place his Epitaphs in the literature pile, a separation Markson affirmed when asked whether there was “any sort of natural growth between writing genre fiction and writing [his first non-pulp novel] Going Down.” There was, Markson answered, “no connection at all.” “I was never,” he explained, “a—quote—crime novelist. I was always the person who was going to write Wittgenstein and the others. . . .” The good news for fans of Markson’s masterpieces, the line of books stretching from Wittgenstein’s Mistress to The Last Novel, is that even as we enjoy the wisecracks, booze, floozies, and batterings essential to a hardboiled detective novel, the artist “who was going to write Wittgenstein” is grinning at us from the wings. In Epitaph for a Tramp, for example, Markson’s gumshoe, Harry Fannin, finds typed on a piece of paper in a suspected murderer’s apartment: “And it is my conclusion that The Recognitions is not merely the best American first novel. . . .” Markson is certainly correct that there is no essential connection between his genre work and the rest of his writing, but to littérateurs who can’t find the fun in these early potboilers, one wants to say, with one of Markson’s characters: “Chew nails, huh?”