Monday, February 15, 2016

The Familiar, Vol. 2: Into the Forest by Mark Z. Danielewski

When the apocalypse comes no one will know it as anything but ordinary even in its finality.

Especially in its finality.

If House of Leaves did one thing well, better than any other novel or author that I've read, it was being creepy. House of Leaves was creepy in excess. It was unnerving. Scenes and descriptions got under my skin. To this day, I think about scenes from that novel and how scary it would be to experience them in real life.

The Familiar Vol. 2: Into the Forest brings Danielewski back to that kind of writing. Don't get me wrong, it is still no where near as unnerving as House of Leaves. But we're getting the stronger hints that something has gone awry in the family who is the focal point of the novel.

The cat/kitten, who appears at the end of Vol. 1, begins to have a strange effect on the other family members. Xanther, the daughter who found the cat, has some sort of symbiotic relationship with the cat. She gradually gets more and more ill as she spends time away from the cat. Xanther's parents are vaguely unnerved by the cat--Xanther's mother hates the cat and does not understand why.

And strange things begin happening.

A cat photo felt appropriate.
I don't want to say what, because part of the pleasure of the novel, as with House of Leaves is in experiencing these strange occurrences as the reader. Nonetheless, I will say, it is strangeness in the same category as House of Leaves; which is to say, it is Danielewski writing what he is best at.

My criticisms for the first volume stand: there are still too many plot lines. However, the damage is mitigated by the fact that we now have twice as much context for the various other plot lines and their characters. I suspect that as the other volumes are released, this will be less and less an issue for readers. (Though, it's difficult to say because the novels appear to be slowing down in their publication.)

Moreover, the distraction of the other plot lines was less difficult because the main plot line, that of Xanther and the cat, has become dramatically more interesting. That's to say, as a reader, I was willing to forgive Danielewski the chapters that were less interesting because the more interesting chapters were really great. And, to some extent, I trust that it's going somewhere.

Indeed, this volume ends with a major cliffhanger that will bridges two plot lines previously separate. (and so, I'm eagerly awaiting Vol. 3).

For those of you considering jumping in: the water's pretty warm, but, though the water's plenty comfortable for me, I'm not yet ready to tell other people to jump in. I think by Volume 3, though, I'll be ready to start strongly recommending the novels. That said, at this point, you're only two novels behind (assuming they're each normal 300-page novels, you're only 600 normal pages behind).

Rest assured, though, I will continue reviewing, in installments.

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