MARX, DECEASED by Carl Djerassi


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 Djerassi, a Stanford chemistry professor and the man who developed the first oral contraceptive, expressed his fascination with scientists' hunger for recognition in his first two novels (The Bourbaki Gambit, 1994; Cantor's Dilemma, 1989). His hero this time is not so different: a Pulitzer-winning novelist who so longs to know how he'll be ranked among the greats that he fakes his own death to read his obituaries. The problem with being an artist, Stephen Marx likes to say, is that there's no hierarchical structure within which one can gauge one's success or lack thereof. Working in isolation, answerable only to a faceless and generally silent public, a serious writer can count how many copies of his books sell, but how can he be sure that his work is good enough to survive through the ages? So caught up with this question is Marx (despite his Pulitzer), and so apathetic about the way his personal life is dragging along, that he arranges to fake his own death by drowning so that he can read the posthumous summations. Marx's ruse works, and he flees undetected to an anonymous life in San Francisco--but then, of course, complications ensue. First, Noah Berg, Marx's cruelest but most engaged critic, drops all plans for a book about Marx when he falls in love with Marx's ``widow,'' Miriam. Then a beautiful but nosy Columbia Journalism School student acting on a hunch hunts Marx down and threatens to expose him unless he helps her write her own biography of the author. Amidst all this turmoil, Marx is never really able to pin down his true worth as a writer- -but as the burden of his reputation is lifted, he finds himself freed to create in new and exciting ways, ensuring a slew of brilliant if anonymous novels to come. Charming characters and clever prose, though few readers are likely to care about the issue of peer review as much as Djerassi evidently does.

Pub Date: Aug. 2nd, 1996
ISBN: 0-8203-1835-3
Page count: 232pp
Publisher: Univ. of Georgia
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1996


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