“The Familiar vol. 1: One Rainy Day in May” by Mark Z. Danielewski


As a big fan of House of Leaves, I’ve been looking forward to this new series for quite a while. I just finished this first volume and I have some mixed feelings about it. The biggest problem with this book is that it seemed to lack a clear narrative focus. Granted, this is the “pilot” episode of a twenty-seven book series. The book focuses mainly on Xanther, a little girl frail and sickly with ADHD whose parents are scrambling to reach her, and decide on a pet. But fate takes a different course. This is the thorough line of the novel. Along the way we meet a few other people from across the globe. For each character, Danielewski narrates their tale from their perspective in a different form. For Xanther, it’s more straight forward because she’s a pre-teen girl, for her father Anwar the prose mirrors a mathematical equation because he’s a programmer, for the gangster Luther it’s a hard edged snappy street style, for the police detective it’s a noir type. And of course, each one has their own corresponding font to go along with. Mid-way through the novel an explanation is given as to why both those things are and you can tell Daneilewski is having a lot of fun with narrative. But as I said, the biggest problem I had was that it seemed to lack focus. There are clues as to what ties some of these characters together, but not enough to tie it all together. Of course, this will change in other volumes of the book as the story progresses. Another issue is the way Danielewski writes the Singapore parts of the book. The “Engrish” and very ambiguous descriptions made it difficult to tell exactly what was happening, which is also the point as that character is a drug addict.

As always, Danielewski has a keen eye for timing, and playing with the form of narrative so it feels interactive.  There is one part near the end where Xanther’s desperation reaches a pivotal point in saving the life of a kitten where very few words on each page so that the reader will fly through them to see what happens next.  The timing of the words to help the reader feel what the character feels is a genius move Danielewski has been pulling since House of Leaves (I wish WordPress allowed for blue colored font).  It still works.  Also, there are quite a few quotable lines, and some very piercing insights that came close to bringing me more than a few times to tears.

I’m hoping for more clarity and answers as the series progresses, and as this is a twenty-seven book series, it’s a great literary gamble that I hopes pay off. This is a story that exists solely for a literary medium — there is no movie or TV show deal that can be made here — which sets it aside from other book series. I’m not sure how this will pan out for Danielewski and he certainly wouldn’t be able to get this done if not for his fan base he deservingly acquired after House of Leaves. I look forward to seeing where this goes.


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