Counterpoint Press recently benefitted from a recent cohabitation of sorts with Soft Skull Press and Shoemaker & Hoard, the former of which continues to publish works under its own name, the latter of which now uses the Counterpoint imprint. There was a distinct integrity to each of these three presses that no longer quite survives, and the result is a varied assortment of a tremendous array of titles, authors, and genres.
I first discovered Counterpoint before this multiply beneficial acquisition, in making my way through David Markson's work. While Dalkey Archive Press is responsible for his better known and, for the most part, simply better novels – most notably Wittgenstein's Mistress and Springer's Progress –, Markson is quite giving enough to share his capacious talent with other publishers, among them Counterpoint. The Last Novel and This Is Not a Novel are both wonderful works, although their stylistic reminiscence of Mistress does them far more harm than good: both immensely enjoyable, neither is as enveloping and uniquely cohesive as Markson's most celebrated text; neither might they strive to be, but the similarities of tone and technique don't let comparison escape easily. Rather, it is Counterpoint's publication of his earlier, genre work – which were originally published by Shoemaker & Hoard – that I most enjoy. Epitaph for a Tramp and Epitaph for a Deadbeat combine two of his crime novels, both of which were initially published long before his forays into literary existentialism; they are terrifically fun: reference enough to Sam Spade seems provided to make it comfortably postmodernist, but it is Markson's distinct perversions and tone-consistent diegetic vagaries that make these novels worthwhile. His exploration of the territory of Westerns in The Ballad of Dingus MaGee is similarly enjoyable, no more provocative than its wily temper seems capable of, but far more exploratory than it need be. A hilariously and unnervingly unfunny attempt at being funny resulted in Dirty Dingus Magee, a 1970 film adaptation of the novel starring Frank Sinatra. If you can make it through the trailer, available at the bottom of the page, then the movie might be for you.
Counterpoint's opportunistic streak was likely the genesis of Not-Knowing, an unwieldy but often remarkable and insightful collection of essays, interviews, and ephemera by and with Donald Barthelme. It seems fitting and poignant that the more popular publication of this text is offered by Vintage. Barthelme's shorts collections Flying to America and The Teachings of Don B. are also offered by Counterpoint; the latter collection is perhaps most notable for its marvelous introduction by Thomas Pynchon.
Maeve Brennan's short-story collection The Springs of Affection is one of the more guilt-free Counterpoint offerings; it is a terrific, beautiful collection, the title story of which is one of the most extraordinary I've ever read. In fitting Counterpoint fashion, a better-selling edition has been published by Houghton Mifflin.
Counterpoint's catalogue feels something like a winning, occasionally revelatory, often enervating walk through a flea market.