The Familiar, Volume 1: One Rainy Day In May was released earlier this month and it already has the literary community on edge. Mark Z. Danielewski is an author known for his experimentation with form, but this is a project larger than any he’s undertaken. One Rainy Day In May is only volume 1 out of 27, a project that will likely span over 21,000 pages!
But besides a gargantuan story that will take years to be released, what is it?
The Familiar photo collage / Via Instagram.com/nicoleacecilia
The first question you might be asking yourself isn’t “what,” but “who.” Who is Mark Z. Danielewski?
He’s best known as the author of House Of Leaves, (more about this book here) a novel about a haunted house. Actually, it’s much more than that. Using a metanarrative plot structure, myriad footnotes, appendices full of fake supplementary materials, art, three different text colors (the word house always appears in blue), and innovative page layouts, Danielewski created a cult classic for lovers of literature across the world. Jonathan Russel Clark (of LitHub) even said “in my high school, copies could be seen in the hands of all the cool kids…It became a kind of shorthand for hip, young literary types, like a challenge: Did you understand it?”
The Familiar on an e-reader / Full of strange formatting to look like television advertisements.
His novels may seem inaccessible at first, but they are meant to be dived into. Their layouts are immersive and enlightening, causing readers to rethink how a story is told. He creates entire worlds for his readers to swim around in, encouraging them to get lost in the pure joy of reading. But this takes time…
Danielewski spent nearly 10 years writing House Of Leaves and then another six years to write his follow up, Only Revolutions, which requires readers to rotate book to read it. The Fifty Year Sword, his 2005 novella, uses 5 different text colors to signify different narrators.
But what does all of this experimentation mean?!
Excerpt from One Rainy Day In May / Via LitHub
In the case of The Familiar, it means rethinking how to write a novel. Danielewski’s books each take on non-written forms of story telling and channels them into books. House of Leaves tackles film, Only Revolutions is themed with music, and The Fifty Year Sword is a campfire story. The Familiar is the author’s attempt at harnessing television into the form of the novel, which might explain why it’s being released in 27 volumes!
However, the question still remains:
how is Danielewski destroying the novel as we know it? He’s creating something entirely new, something that readers haven’t seen before. By destroying the traditional structure of the novel, he can then start over and build something better. As with the modernists of the 20’s and 30’s, experimentation can be seen as an unnecessary violence against language. But just as literature now celebrates Faulkner, Stein, and Hemingway, it’ll celebrate Danielewski as well. It just might take a little time…