Adam Davis, from Division Leap, a Portland, Oregon, bookstore pays tribute to the marketing of classic Russian literature in 1950s paperback form.
The first edition of this unusual anthology, in which short stories and excerpts from larger works (including a piece by Isaac Babel) are collaged together and commercially packaged into a convenient narrative of female decline. The cover features an illustration by the illustrator Lou Marchetti, who lent his distinctive style to many crime fiction and western pulps of the era. Mark Merrill was a pseudonym of David Markson, and this is his first published book. The anthology was re-released in 1963 under the less titillating, but perhaps equally convenient title Great Tales of Old Russia.
While the primary motive behind the book may have been financial, as with his other early detective novels, the collage aspect of the book and the excellent selection of Russian works are the beginning of a trajectory that would culminate in Marksonâ€™s great, last collage novels.
I never knew Markson well, but when I worked at the Strand in the early aughts I sometimes used to talk to him about books in the evenings when he would come in and make his rounds. This wasnâ€™t unusual; Marksonâ€™s well-known affection for the bookstore extended to many of the employees. I remember that he was the first person to mention the works of Isaac Babel to me. I was foolish enough to wait a few years to read Babel, just as I foolishly delayed reading Marksonâ€™s own work until after my acquaintance with him . Seeing Babelâ€™s work here reinforces that particular regret of reading a book later then one would like.
Hat tip to John Brewer.