THE FAMILIAR: One Rainy Day in May / Mark Z. Danielewski
Against all advice, I intend to conduct a real-time review of this book and, when I do, it will be in the thought stream found below or by clicking on the title of this post.
A review by Des Lewis
It has just arrived! Having had it on preorder for a few months, at least. THE FAMILIAR by Mark Z. Danielewski – it weighs a ton, like an iron bar – beautiful glossy pages, loads of colour illustrations …absolutely gorgeous… Over 800 pages, the first of a series of 27 volumes of this novel.
Now to read the text that appears quite weird to look at, let alone absorb… My credentials? Well, just as one example here is my real-time review of Finnegans Wake.
My blog post about this book in 2010!
“You are all we once were but the vastness of our strangeness exceeds all the light-years between our times.”
CAGED HUNT Part One
There is no way I can give you a sense of this book other than by photographing each page. Which I don’t intend to do! OR by describing the text, its manic typography, text boxes, circled letters, headings, redactions, colours, graphs, health charts, etc – and its own photos – and what it says within these boxes etc. So far up to page 33, I only have an impression of the plot’s audit trail, if there is a plot, other than my noticing a redaction (just perceptible through the crossing-out) of the word ‘hawler’, or so it seems. Tom’s crossing-out?
Page 34: TWIN RIVERS OCHRE ARTIFACT
Much in this book so far about rocks, of stones, some with circles round them, like the rocks and stones I often photograph for my blog. Here, caves, too, and a typographically stylised prelude, I guess, like that in the film 2001 Space Odyssey, here 243243 years ago, a playwritten conversation between a boy and girl…
Leading to these couple of double pages starting at page 45…
IS EVERYTHING OKAY?
Pages 48 – 72
Rain races down many of these pages, pages like windows, rain in the form of words, words that streak and swell into bursting drops then spread like tiny (actually often readable) insects. Words streaking such as ‘How many raindrops?’ Meanwhile, amid this rain, there is a 12 year old girl named Xanther, her girlish schoolish hang-ups, her relationship with her Dad etc., described by a Battlestar Galactica 2004-2009 of a Wikipedia smiley texting text that tells the story. For me not a dreamcatcher so much as a series of dreamcaptchas and other codes, but told linearly, with many question marks in front of commas, mathematical conundrums, as well as other bookcrease-hiding words or smudges escaping into the spine of the book that must have caused the typesetter nightmares. I reckon it took the five years between announcement of this book and its publication in my bungalow house today for the typesetting alone to have been accomplished. Meanwhile, a big surprise awaits Xanther…
[I am simultaneously real-time reviewing a book entitled ‘Thus Were Their Faces’, a project that I started two days ago before receiving ‘The Familiar’ today. The above section from ‘The Familiar’ is threaded through with a textual and visual theme-and-variations on raindrops; this happens to remind me of “I have heard more than five hundred different kinds of rain in this room” that, two days ago, I quoted HERE in that other still on-going review.]
I do not intend to continue a detailed holding of your hand during this reading experience; I can hardly hold my own hand with regard to this book!
This review will be an intermittent touching of base between us, so that we can at least know that we are not alone with the book. That there are others.
Not just a triangulation that I have conducted before but a multi-symbiotic flashmob of a review.
Pages 73 – 99
“; been making pancakes before there was trees.”
“}] slathered with butter and grade A maple syrup.”
The visual text in these two sections becomes at least linear-looking! Meanwhile, I can sense an interweaving of plot scenarios, the first section a cruelly cut and paste Los Angeles gangsterism, the second about Xanther again with her ‘Dad’, although we now learn who Dov is or was. Is AND was, judging by the billion year cycles of existence, of succubus and incubus. This text is overflowing with all sort of parenthetic symbols, enclosing and outclosing our DNA or Hadron Colliders as well as the prose gasoline to run the engine of this book. But which is engine, which gasoline? Touching base, as I say. You need to read the book alongside me, and touch base, too. Or I need to read it alongside YOU, more like! Who is the other’s bespoke brackets? Visit the cemetery of this book where we can dig up the still living words and their own thought streams to match mine, this thread of thoughts, not comments. As it says at the top.
I should make it clear that all my references to ‘The Familiar’ in this thread indicate ‘The Familiar: Volume One’ that this book is.
I hope someone else may touch base on this thread before I happen to read and review it further.
Pages 100 – 132
“. worlds though don’t need words in order to be worlds.”
Orientalist place, another plot thread, with wide spaces between lines, and some oriental script I don’t understand, but I understand it more than the English in which it is embedded! The first sight of the word ‘familiar’ fainter and pinker than all the surrounding words, This is jingjing with a cat, and she is called to see someone called zhong? Actually, I am understanding more that I am letting on, through osmosis, or simple duplicity?
“) Astair watched Xanther pause Anwar’s race for the car so he wouldn’t crush any snails making their way across the sidewalk (”
Back to 12 year old Xanther, and her family tangles with ‘parents’ Anwar and Astair and twin ‘sisters’, only one of which four people, I infer, is her blood relation. Her mother is academically striving, as I am, too, by studying this book. Following the rainstorm and the numbered leaks in the house. This mother has a ‘hotflash’, being 40. She wonders, if it is a ‘legitimate’ hot flush, I infer from info, as I, at the exact same moment, have one of my possibly illegitimate hot flushes that I am currently experiencing through hormone treatment for my prostate trouble (really). She ponders forgiveness for pedophiles, and discards it even before she ponders it. And Xanther is as epileptic as this text is epileptic that describes her, I guess, and she is a bit odd, too. Like this text. Like this gestalt real-time review, too, with which I am skating on thin ‘intentional fallacy’ ice. Or the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction. Xanther needs a ‘companion’ – or familiar? The twins think they’re all getting a dog. I thought I was reading a novel.
Nobody going to touch base here?
Just not up to it. You also have a need for time on other books.
Pages 133 – 157
“She recognises herself as its sole witness. If only it were real. If only it were just a nightmare. But it is more. Not Orb-born but hers — ”
Like the accreting gestalt of this whole book, this whole review of it, an orb gradually eats into the text of this section, while two ageing, still feisty couply, couple of scientists, in Texas, engravure an SF scenario like an Interzone vision. The text encapsulates the ‘Cern Zoo’ (Google this term) of the Internet, too, which is ironic, as this book is bigger than ebooks or kindles (its ‘star-warmed’ state as a planet in this section echoes my intermittent hotflashes as I read it) – the only way for the Internet to convey this book is by photographing it and by downloading the photographs on-line, but the photos are still of the book itself that you are seeing, its palimpsest of text upon paper, one that spiritually communicates with you.
“. It’s when she scrolls back into time that the terror seizes her, slowly at first, like the awareness of a rhythm not quite synchronised with the patterns of this life,”
The example here of the text being eaten away by the woman scientist’s Orb is a feature of this book’s text that works semantically, graphically, phonetically and syntactically as most texts do, but with an added dimension beyond ‘graphically’. I call it ‘lexophonically’ (from my 1967 poem lexophony) and ‘lexivirally’.
Any reader of this review (are there any?) should take into account that my thought stream here is based on my initial reading of this book. This is a book that could absorb an infinite number of readings. Each reading would produce from me a different gestalt real-time dreamcatcher of a review, I guess.
“. Far beyond Cern “
Pages 158 – 199
POWER DRAWS A CROWD
Another plot thread plaits in. Or is it plaited with ‘Lupita’s’? Makeshift investigative partnership in Los Angeles, and the rain storm, of Balascoe and Oz. Noir noir. Thinking of LA as a woman. A jazzy Chandleresqueness of the pointillist city but without the pointillism.
Since starting these reviews in 2008, I have gone on record many times about a work’s leitmotifs building to a final gestalt, using those very words. But now, I am thinking that the various lexiviral text styles in this book are indeed leitmotifs in the original Music Drama Wagnerian sense, each ltmtf indicating a character or a set of characters or a genius loci or a vision… A txtmtf. A help rather than a hindrance!
Here the txtmtf for the core Xanther is a gradual transformation into a normal text, like a normal book. Except not quite. So far.
Here we learn more of her therapies and regimes for her condition, her propensity to ask questions, those with whom she relates in these processes. The big surprise that still impends…
Her ‘Dad’ Anwar is Egyptian? Dov once her real Dad had lifeflashes of loveflashes, not hot ones like me.
I think this following passage is a preternatural one, so forgive me quoting it all:
“So Xanther went right to raindrops, the number that said there was a number even as it hid a number that was no number, and how it had made her feel. She even explained how her friend Kle has a brother named Phinneas who is brilliant but fears dolphins. Or not the dolphins but how many dolphins there are because his fear is also all about the counting, because when you see 3 dolphins playing in the waves that means there are really like 9, with the rest under the waves, but if you see like a lot, like 27, there are really like 243?,”
Power draws a crowd? I have no power.
Pages 200 – 235
THE BLUE PENCIL
“Like what the fuck’s up with this day already? This rain?”
YEAH MAN. SOMETHING DIED.
“His tan blazer still damp with rain,”
The non-Xanther plot plaits all seem to have the txtmtf of rain, and I am reminded of the pervasive rain in the film BLADERUNNER, and I look for replicants in the text, for the building high faces, amidst the raining words ruining meaning. Pancakes again at a stall…
Pages 236 – 267
” (only Dov’s absence seems the absence of permanent residency which it (always) has been))(”
I am glad I predicted earlier that this Xanther text is epileptic, epilepsis not as ellipsis but multi-parenthesis. Normalizing text now becomes aberrant again for a very Grand Mal. Also my prediction of succubus and incubus is paying off still.
But, equally, I admit that my earlier mention of ‘Finnegans Wake’ should have been ‘Ulysses’: one day, one place, one rain storm, this whole book? Except perhaps ‘The Orb’ plot plait?
Ulyssis as epilepsis.
Still getting a dog, it seems, as companion or familiar.
Pages 268 – 325
PALACE ABOVE THE DAY
“jingjing followed at a distance through stranger and stranger rooms, with glass tables, bronze lions, very low light. are those shrunk heads?”
“But when he looks through the downpour, the women lift their heads.”
I forgot to mention earlier that the epilepsis has a similar txtmtf as the orb, eating into the text, while with these two new plot-plait sections above and their txtmtfs, there sporadically appears a giant ellipsis on a whole otherwise blank page, in the same faded pink as the word ‘familiar’ has whenever it appears. This and other devices, codes, captchas, all being dreamcaught in my osmosis, I hope
Pages 326 – 352
“Code kept scrolling down the screen like it was endless, maybe it was endless, and actually it did look a bit like rain.”
Xanther visits Anwar’s office with him as colleagues there celebrate something, still on the way to her big surprise (a pet dog?) – rain continues, so does her txtng her friends, facebooking, like this familiar facebook itself shows its own faces not by semantics but by graphology, friending, unfriending, friends of friends, friends without friends, friends as words, pictures of words, rather than words as pictures, the noosphere or horrosphere? hologram or horoscope? Mention of ‘Twin Peaks’ justifies my earlier mention in this review of Finnegans Wake because I once compared FW to TP here.
Last night, at the Clacton Writer’s Group, for our customary speed-writing exercise, I wrote and read aloud ‘Just Like That’ using The Familiar book as a prop. It is shown here: https://nemonymousnight.wordpress.com/just-like-that/
Pages 353 – 395
Wagnerian rain leitmotif in this plot plait, dogs playing in it and its pools…
“What we really need is a cat.”
But Xanther is being chased by giant familiar ellipses, a prototype girl in this beta novel attempting to escape from non-existence, but I wonder whether to continue my review after this turns up…
” the benefits of useful connectivity also resulted in a curious uptick of spurious connectivity [justified by only the frailest filaments of association and ‘that feeling’ [”
This is a book of multiple parentheses as well as giant ellipses. They help me with the osmoses.
Pages 396 – 454
IS LITTLE IRRELEVANT
“There is a Czech writer whose work was extremely political but it was also so extremely convoluted it communicated nothing to anyone ”
VIEW OF THE SEA
“, out of the splash, the answers had materialized.”
Astair has a fugue or theme and variations on dogs, and how a dog will help the family, especially ‘special needs’ Xanther.
But I can’t help mentioning, at least in the UK, where I live, that a common expression, since I was also a ‘special needs’ child myself, for rain raining heavily is ‘raining cats and dogs’. Seriously. Google it.
Pages 455 – 517
“Dov loved dogs. He would love to know that Xanther was getting a dog.”
The book’s core Xanther fugue? After browsing radio stations and texts, along with Xanther, I watch her leave the car into the gushing waters of the rainstorm, words smeared down the page, and empty spaces, vague circles… A wonderful feat of literature; this book has to be ‘read’ for what it is. It is a fugal experience in itself. Epilepsis as Ellipsis. Parenthetitis of the brain, even when the brackets have gone.
Pages 518 – 562
” by the time the four had found the balcony, jingjing never felt so free. so what of the rain, if his robe oreddy drenched. jingjing never saw a view this wide. bay there, supertrees, ”
The ‘reading’ of this book is like coming out on such a balcony…
Anwar has his fugue now, looking for the orange of Xanther amid the rainstorm, but has she got the Orange mac on? I actually felt the desperation.
I maintain, as with Finnegans Wake, that there can be no correct theory about this book. No definitive traction for symbols or semantics. But there is a meaning from various interconnecting osmoses in the bulrushes. This review is only one such osmosis. We have to triangulate all the various reviews and other readers’ thoughtstreams – as I have claimed for real-time reviewing since year dot – to reach the ultimate gestalt, and here that is derived from all the teeming lgtmtfs and txtmtfs, even by using any accidental smears or marks or squashed flies on the paper pages of each edition of the book. THE FAMULUS, short piece by me that is included as one of the Five Mentagras in ‘The Last Balcony’. Chop off a bit of something, does it remain the same something?
SPOILER – can you actually have a spoiler in a review of this book? – Xanther finds him instead. But save who or what? I think I know, and how important is it that it is still. raining cats and dogs? AM I THE FIRST REVIEWER TO CITE THIS FIGURATIVE EXPRESSION IN CONNECTION WITH THE RAIN IN THIS BOOK, a book where the words themselves are rain? And I already know from somewhere that she eventually gets a cat, not a dog, because of the unavoidable pre-book publicity.
PAGES 563 – 578
“No IS or IST is capable of total AIM awareness.”
A strikingly fictionatronic (google it) section of pages without a title but only huge start- and end- brackets or parentheses like vertical redactions (to match the earlier more familiar giant ellipses) – a Narcon ‘metanarrative’ changing the actual physical page paper from faint yellow to pure white.
Narcon (cf Simplon in ‘Weirdtongue’) certainly takes meta- to new levels, by buttering up its greatest, strangest, most intelligent (if still ‘special needs’) creation called Xanther. One wonders who the mentor whom the mentored. And what has she found in the rain? I can guess. A complex narrative, a simple story.
Pages 579 – 689
“, keeps blinking, like suddenly the rain’s that deep, too deep to see in, ”
And I blink,too, at the text, seeing only putas in among this plot plait.
THE FOURTH CRATE
Wounded zoo animals, in this plot plait’s first three crates. But what’s in the fourth? I can guess.
But then Pink Floyd say that you, i.e. I, have ” reached for the secret too soon…”
“Even these excavations remain fragmentary. ”
I once loved Concrete Poetry in the 1960s, Bob Cobbing et AL (Ginsberg) at the Narcon event in the ALbert Hall, London, which I attended. Now the ORB, in its plot plait, returns, still eating away at the text, then containing the text, then eating at it again. My brain needs Simplon again, aka Narcon.
This plot plait converges on Xanther plot plait…
MOM, IT’S A —
“Where is her orange umbrella?”
They left her glasses behind. But she tells her Mom, she’s fine.
It’s a… What I said earlier as a common knowledge SPOILER. She tells her Mom it’s a FRAIL (reviewer’s redACTion)! Errr…
Pages 690 – 772
“. notice too so many void deck cats around, macam suddenly too, all around, and more than usual, leftear lopped, haunting corners, tails flicking, whiskers skewed, eyes on every-thing, like they waiting for something, someone.”
The jingjing plot plait thus says something about the whole book’s plaited plant itself?
“‘Who sent you?’ / ‘You did.’ — Terminator 2: Judgment Day ”
And so I have come and made this book my own realtime catpoop tray. I might have become a pet as reader, but I’ve always hated cats and dogs. Well, not always. As a small child in the 1950s, I had a cat called Tuppeny (Twopenny, Tuppence, Twopence) over whom I cried when it died.
Come back Simplon! This book is a mess, and makes a bad name for experimental books like Weirdtongue or Nemonymous Night. Or it is something genius that is still working osmotically, virally, ltmtfly, txtmtfly…a gestalt boon for all experimentalists. A Finnegans wake-up call. This section is not only graphological but also has real graphs!
“Xanther is an absurdly ill-coordinated creature. [”
But will she SAVE me? Perhaps the twins know.
Pages 773 – 839
“Luther slowed once, and then only to snatch up a shovel, metal mangled months ago in the tread of some ” [reviewer’s redACTion]
I had a CAT Scan a week or so ago connected with my recently diagnosed prostate cancer.
“Whereupon Xanther offered a cradle like she’d never made before, ”
Not a revivified kitten so much as her teasing out the familiar that has made a home within me so as to breathe life into it outside. As I hope I have done for the author of this book and for the book I’ve teased out, too.
Succubus – Incubus
Just can’t keep up, Des. Sorry.
Somehow Xanther knew exactly what she was seeking to tease out – from day one of this review?
I heard today that my prostate cancer is responding well to hormone treatment. And the next step will be radiotherapy.
Radiotherapy now complete. Next check up end of January.
2021: Sadly, my prostate cancer seems to be returning and I have been referred for consideration for a new ablation procedure in London.
I had reason HERE to reference THE FAMILIAR, VOL. 1, in comparison with works about THE KING IN YELLOW. The King upon or within a yellow throne?
THE ABOVE WORK HAS THE HONOUR TO BE ON THIS LIST HERE AS COMPILED BY DFL
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