Robert Marshall Recommends

“Lynne Tillman’s Motion Sickness helped change my conception of what a novel could be,” Marshall writes. “Published in 1992, it’s an account of an unnamed female narrator’s post modern “grand tour” of Europe. She bounces – or ricochets – between Paris, Istanbul, Amsterdam and other destinations. Her background, as well as the specific motivation for her travels, remain mysterious, although some sort of loss seems implied. In each city she knows or meets people. As the novel progresses, an increasingly dense web of interrelationships emerges. All the while she reads, she thinks, has doubts, and writes postcards (which she may or may not send).

Formally, the novel Motion Sickness most resembles is, to my mind, Sebald’s Rings of Saturn, first published in 1995. In both, a somewhat arbitrary physical tour provides the occasion for a mental journey. But while Sebald’s work has begun to travel into the canon, Motion Sickness has gone out of print. Why? Several possible explanations occur. Certainly, although Tillman’s vision can at moments be grim, her darkness never approaches the Sebaldian. She is too often too riotously funny. I’ve sometimes wondered whether it is precisely this sense of humor, along with her rigorous refusal of any hint of pretentiousness, that has kept her work from being regarded with the same seriousness as that of her German contemporary. Or is it simply (and depressingly) because women writers still aren’t supposed to write major novels of ideas? Or did Motion Sickness just appear before its time?

Unanswerable questions. The world – and Tillman’s work – abounds in them (in this sense, although I suspect she would beg to differ, I think Tillman is a great realist). But thanks to the wonders of the internet, although Motion Sickness may be out of print, it isn’t unavailable. Buy it. Read it. Help it on its journey. Pass it along.”

Robert Marshall’s debut novel, A Separate Reality, is newly published by Carroll & Graf.