ON THE LETTERS OF DAVID MARKSON

UrlLaura Sims at The Quarterly Conversation:

A recluse is someone who “lives a solitary life and tends to avoid other people . . . often for religious meditation.” The novelist David Markson, famously reclusive in the last few decades of his life, would have scoffed at the latter part of that definition—unless you count literature as a religion, of course. In one of his notes to me from Fare Forward: Letters from David Markson, which recounts our seven-year correspondence and friendship, he brings up his “goddamn reclusiveness” himself, saying he “cannot explain” it, “but it’s in the last few books, I’m sure.” It certainly is—his books are full of narrators shut off from the world—either by choice or circumstance, or a little of both. The narrator of Reader’s Block, for instance, often remarks, “Nobody comes. Nobody calls,” perhaps because “Children depart, miscellaneous relationships wither. Friends move to distant places. Friends die.” But he also recalls that, “In fact Protagonist has any number of friends. Among the living and accessible,” and that he himself doesn’t know “why or even when it was that he commenced to fall out of touch.”

Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a nightmare—even after he’d said “I will will will see you when you’re here,” and committed to a date, time, and place, he would often cancel at the last minute, citing one or more of his myriad illnesses, his anxiety over the pending results of medical tests, or even inclement weather.

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