Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Familiar, Volume 3: Honeysuckle & Pain

Do we miss not only the past but every future the lost past describes? Is that just the nature of missing? All the lost might-have-beens? The certainty that those uncertain futures are gone?

If we can't embrace uncertainty do we miss the point of love?

I waited, not intentionally, almost a year before picking up Volume 3. My reading suffered for it. Now, I could have looked up online summaries; I could have re-read Volumes 1 and 2 before picking up Volume 3.

I did not do this. I felt that I should read these as I'd read any other novel to see how Danielewski's literary experiment is working on me. In a sense, I wanted to know how this series would work for the type of fiction-reader I am: literary tastes, but not literary levels of attention to detail. A heavy reader, but not necessarily a heavy fiction reader. And also someone with other commitments and interests.

I'm also worried about looking at things on the internet because I'm worried that reading fan-theories about what is going on will ruin it for me. Give me ideas about the novel that I'm not ready for; plant thoughts I don't want because they haven't occurred to me, and I want the pleasure of coming to them myself.

But this approach was costly. Other than the general contours of what happened in Volume 1 and 2, my memory was pretty blank. I was reliant on cues within Volume 3 to remind me who characters were and what happened in the prior novels. Fortunately, in many cases Danielewski provides cues (not on par with, say, Rowling in the Harry Potter books, but still a helpful lifeline here and there).

My lack of memory was mostly okay for the main plotline: the family who adopts this cat and the strange events that start occurring around the daughter most invested in the cat. More strangeness surrounding the daughter; more day-to-day of the family. Danielewski's writing is the strongest here, as he shows a (relatively) normal family, with their (relatively) normal family concerns, and the gradual unnerving effect of the cat and the strange occurrences. We also saw another major plot line, involving hackers, develop in an interesting way and also intersect with the family plot line. This was entertaining and, alone, made Vol. 3 worth reading (and also maintains my interest in continuing to read the series).

My lack of memory, though, was a problem for basically every other plot line. There were often reminders, but most of the time, I was relying on hazy (at best) recollections. There was a strong correlation between how much a story line was written in dialect and how much I didn't remember.

I don't expect anyone to get
this reference except for me.
I think one of the difficulties of Danielewski's project is that he was inspired by television and the long-form narratives that audiences are interested in, exemplified by Breaking Bad and The Wire, to take two examples. However, one extremely fundamental difference between the two forms is that human beings are wired to take in information visually: we intuitively recognizes faces and register information from scenes. I think this information is ingrained into our minds without much conscious effort. With the written word, however, we see only what we ourselves envision, and our memories do not intuitively register information. Thus, recognizing characters is a very different experience in television as compared to novels.

All that aside, I remain steadfastly committed to continuing on with Mr. Danielewski's experiment. Vol. 4 comes out in just a couple of weeks (though I'm probably going to give it a second--I have other novels on my queue). Even with my memory issues, the main plot lines are good enough to subsist me.

And, hell, I'm 2,400 pages in. I can't stop now.


Jeremiah said...

BRISCO COUNTY JR! NBC still uses the theme song during the Olympics! (Actually, can't remember if they did for the Rio games. But whatever!) I loved that show.

Randy said...

Yeah, I want to try to watch it again, but I don't see it streaming anywhere. Do I want it badly enough to spend $15 on amazon? And if I buy it, will I ever watch it?

Who knows.