Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Familiar Volume One Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Mark Z. Danielewski
Publisher: Pantheon
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Familiar Volume One: One Rainy Day in May
Pages: 880

Buy on Amazon!

It’s been said that Mark Danielewski, best known for writing horror/romance House of Leaves, is looking to kill the novel with the release of The Familiar. Well I personally believe such a feat could never be accomplished … at least not without the extinction of humanity. Danielewski’s latest offering will at the very least present a new lengthy way for epic stories to look in appearance and a new way for how they can be published.  At 880 pages long, it’s fair to say, even with Danielewski’s crazy typography shortening the word count, that this is a long book.

And it’s only volume one of twenty-seven.

The Familiar follows nine narratives that will ultimately make up a cohesive whole.  Each narrative is distinguished by different font sets, different page formatting, different colors in the corners of each page, and different narrating styles.  According to the book’s front jacket each of these characters will be forced to make a world changing choice.  Due to the large structure of this narrative I’m going to provide a brief synopsis of each of the narrators below:
  1. Xanther – Font type Minion, color pink. Xanther is a twelve-year-old girl and the primary focus of this volume. She suffers from motor clumsiness, an unfortunate physical image, and serious epileptic fits.  Xanther and her step-father head out to get a dog, but unforeseen circumstances see them coming home with something completely different.
  2. Anwar –  Font type Adobe Garamond, color green. Anwar is Xanther’s stepfather and the father of two twins with his wife Astair. He is an atheist who was raised by Muslim parents, and he is currently a computer programmer that’s working on making a revolutionary new game.
  3. Astair – Font type Electra LH, color orange. Astair is Xanther’s biological mother and Anwar’s husband. Like her husband she too is an atheist. She is currently trying to obtain her PhD in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling with a thesis about the necessity of God.
  4. Luther – Font type Imperial BT, color black. Luther is a member of an East L.A. gang where he’s contracted to do violence and run a section of the gang’s “business.” When a nerdy programmer type is picked up by the gang it’s up to Luther to determine if he’s worthy of initiation.
  5. Jingjing – Font type Rotis Semi Sans, color blue.  Jingjing is an addict living in Singapore who meets the acquaintance of a very wealthy man. Of all the narratives this one is the most difficult to understand due its broken dialect and shifts to Mandarin, Cantonese, and Russian.
  6. Catherine aa’ala Stern – Font type Apolline, color red. Referred to as Cas, she’s a seventy-six year old doctor and scientist that’s on the run with her partner Bobby. Together they are holding on to and studying a mysterious orb that has morally ambiguous potential.
  7. Ozgur – Font type Baskerville, color grey. Nicknamed Oz, he’s a fifty-seven year old investigator of gang violence for the LAPD who’s currently working on a string of homicides.
  8. Shnorhk Zildjian – Font type Promemoria, color brown. He’s an aging Armenian immigrant, and a taxi-driver falsely accused of running a red light and hitting a cop. Upset about his treatment in the United States, Shnorhk is looking for a better life.
  9. Isandorno – Font type Visage, color yellow. – A superstitious man currently in Mexico touring the pyramids. He has a daughter and he believes they’re being hunted.
If that isn’t enough narration, well guess what … there’s more.  Interspersed through the story are omniscient narrators that comment on, or even outright edits sections of each of the narrators’ stories. These narrators are machines that are named TF-Narcon 3, 9, and 27. TF standing for the title of the book, and each of the numbers corresponding to significant numbers that reappear through out the story ie Xanther’s family has three narrators, there are nine narrators total, and this story consists of twenty-seven volumes. Only one of the Narcon’s (Narcon 9) takes time out of the book to introduce itself to the readers and what its purpose is. The other two I can assume we learn more about later.

Compared to House of Leaves this is much more literary focused novel, like in the vein of longer stories by James Joyce. And like James Joyce the large scope and difficulty to understand a lot of what’s going on makes for a pretty demanding read. I found myself identifying with Xanther a lot.  She is a very sympathetic character, and should the rest of the volumes continue to focus on her, I believe the larger work could be a success. The other narrators have potential too, but there’s not a whole lot of information about them yet.

Four volumes were supposed to be released in a year, but Danielewski is already behind and it only looks like we’ll be getting two this year. As a man in my late twenties, I expect to be in my forties by the time this narrative is complete. Even then, it’s hard to determine whether or not Danielewski can keep up a two volumes a year pace.

Giving this a rating is difficult, especially since very little happens in the plot, and because it only contains the smallest fragment of a much larger whole. That being said the score and my opinion of this volume will likely change based on how much I like the rest of the forthcoming volumes.
Is undertaking such a massive reading worth it?

A lot can happen in a one – more likely two –  decades span of time…
I don’t think I can answer whether it’s worth it … at least not until I finish it. All I can say is that I did enjoy The Familiar, and I would definitely recommend it to people who enjoy a uniquely formatted story, or to people who are patient enough to enjoy a story that’s more geared towards literary fiction, or if you’re a fan of the author.

We’ll be keeping up-to-date with The Familiar as it progresses. Volume two is currently scheduled for release in October of 2015.

Score: 9.0

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