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06/10/2010 10:41 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

David Markson Dead: Author Idolized By David Foster Wallace Dies At 82

(AP) -- David Markson, an author who rummaged relentlessly and humorously through art, history and reality in such novels as "Wittgenstein's Mistress" and wrote crime fiction, poetry and a spoof of Westerns made into the Frank Sinatra film "Dirty Dingus Magee," has died at 82.

Mr. Markson's two children found him June 4 in his bed in his Greenwich Village apartment, the author's literary agent and former wife, Elaine Markson, said. She did not know the cause of death or when he died but said Mr. Markson had been in failing health.

Little known to the general public, Mr. Markson was idolized by a core of fans that included authors Ann Beattie and David Foster Wallace. He was celebrated for his insights and for how he expressed them, often in paragraphs lasting just a sentence or two.

"Wittgenstein's Mistress" (1988), his most acclaimed work, and other novels were interior monologues on the state of the world and the state of the author's mind.

A native of Albany, N.Y., Mr. Markson was raised by a newspaper editor (his father) and a schoolteacher (his mother). He was an undergraduate at Union College, then received a master's in 1952 from Columbia University.

His thesis on Malcolm Lowry's "Under the Volcano" led to a long friendship with the author. Mr. Markson also came to know Dylan Thomas (a fellow patron at New York's famous Lion's Head Tavern) and Jack Kerouac, allegedly so drunk when Mr. Markson asked for an autograph that he jammed his pen right through the paper.

Mr. Markson was ambitious and daring but also tethered to everyday needs. He edited crime fiction at Dell Books in the 1950s and wrote "entertainments," detective novels, now cult favorites, including "Epitaph for a Tramp" and "Epitaph for a Dead Beat."
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He attained commercial success in the mid-1960s with "The Ballad of Dingus Magee," which became the 1970 Sinatra movie "Dirty Dingus Magee." Able at last to support himself with his writing, he completed "Going Down," a thriller set in Mexico and the beginning of his increasingly unconventional style, continued in "Springer's Progress" and mastered in "Wittgenstein's Mistress," published by Dalkey Archive Press after being rejected by more than 20 publishers, Elaine Markson said.

The novel was narrated by a woman who may be the last human on Earth, her severance from place and time in the spirit of the text.

"Perhaps I am no more than 47 or 48," the narrator explains. "I am certain that I once attempted to keep a makeshift accounting, possibly of the months, but surely at least of the seasons. But I do not even remember any longer when it was that I understood I had already since lost track."

Foster Wallace would list the novel as among the most "direly unappreciated" and call it "pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country." Latter novels such as "Vanishing Point" and "This Is Not a Novel" were increasingly interior and abstract, narrated by an "Author" or "Writer" or "Reader" and looping back from random thoughts about the outside world to the storyteller's mind and to the book.

"Markson does away with most narrative conventions -- plot, colorful characters, dramatic conflict -- to replace them with a collage of very short anecdotes, apocryphal legends, aphorisms, lurid gossip about writers and artists' lives and deaths -- as they run through the aging Novelist's fragmented consciousness," Catherine Textier wrote in the New York Times Book Review in 2007, referring to his aptly titled "The Last Novel."

Elaine Markson said she and the author married in 1956 and remained close after divorcing in the 1980s. Besides their two children, the author is survived by three grandchildren.