The late works of David Markson, increasingly spare of characters and plot (somewhere, I believe, he estimated that the time spent with the “protagonist” of each novel dropped from around 10% to 2% over the course of his final four books), granted me a kind of permission as a writer I didn’t know I needed.
A master, perhaps the master, of compression, this much has been said. I can put it no other way than to say reading her is like a visit to the mountains, in that you’re there for the scenery, sure, but most of all to breathe the air.
In an interview with Contemporary Literature in 1985, Calvino said, “What is complex interests me, what is knotted up and difficult to describe, and I try to depict it in a style as limpid as possible.” In this way, we have somewhat inverted projects, but I come back to Calvino more often than any other writer.
In Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, the character of Nell—legless, consigned to a dustbin, and no doubt speaking for her author—says, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that.” Bernhard is then, unsurprisingly, tremendously funny, if you can stomach it, both his long digressions and the short sparks found in my personal favorite work, The Voice Imitator, being illustrative of the particular humor that occurs at the points at which language utterly fails us.
Can Xue is often described in broad strokes as a surrealist, and while I would agree, as much as I care to consider labels, her particular flavor of surrealism seems to be as much about dispensing with the filamental artifice of more “traditional” examples of the novel. While she does invent unsettling and unfamiliar worlds, I read her first and foremost as an interrogator of form.
Joshua Rothes is a writer and artist living in Seattle, Washington. He is the author of An Unspecific Dog and The Ethnographer, along with a sizable body of short texts. His most recent book, The Art of the Great Dictators, is available online, with a modest print run to follow. He is the editor/publisher of Sublunary Editions.