Well, That Happened: The Novel that Broke the Kindle’s back

By on May 27, 2015

052715wellthat.leadJackson Hole, Wyoming – Mark Z. Danielewski has established himself as one of the most ambitious, risk-taking American authors of the past century. Not only are his novels thought provoking and challenging to read, but they also require physical demands of the reader, sometimes forcing them to repeatedly turn the book upside down after each chapter, or hold the pages in a mirror to read further. Now, with his new magnum opus, The Familiar, Danielewski aims to take readers on a long metaphysical journey told over the course of 27 volumes. That journey begins with the first book in the series One Rainy Day in May.

It seemed appropriate for me to start the novel on a suitably rainy day in May. Although it is some 839 pages, I surged through it in two days due to the strange plot and the author’s fascination with typography. Sentences swirl and bend around pages, with some folios only having one or two words each. Full-color paintings, sketches and smudges riddle the glossy pages making volume one of The Familiar less of a book reading experience, and more of an art show.

The Familiar is meant to be more like a television show than a book series, Danielewski has said, with each novel being released three months after the last. While 27 volumes seems daunting and near impossible, I admire Danielewski’s ambition. His masterpiece novel House of Leaves left me floored and completely rattled, and it’s a book that I only recommend to the most daring readers. But his second novel, Only Revolutions, left me bored and exhausted (that’s the flip-over-after-every-chapter book).

Looking at One Rainy Day in May as the pilot episode to his latest series, it suffers from the same mistakes that you see in a lot of first episodes of television shows. There are many characters to keep track of and their attributes are more or less forgettable. Readers are only given a few hints to what the overall plot will be, nothing more than a few interesting moments to sink into. But, that being said, there’s still a strong sense of style and mood, and even after finishing the book (and dipping into a glimpse of the second episode: Into the Forest) I’m anxious to see where Danielewski takes me.

One thing that novels like One Rainy Day in May demand is patience. But in such a fast-paced world, that virtue is slowly dissipating from our lives. Even people who love to read (like myself) find it hard to finish a book once it’s been started, only because there are so many other distractions available. Kindles and other e-readers are said to help people finish the books they begin, but Danielewski’s books don’t convert properly to the e-reader format. Some Amazon reviews even complain about this fact but they still applaud the storytelling.

Two years ago, J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst released a novel called S., which was a story within a story, complete with various loose-leaf inserts like maps, tissues and decoders. One of the reasons they wrote it was to create a novel impossible to translate to an electronic format. Because half of S. is told in the margins of the book, it would require some major reorganizing to transform it into something easily digestible on an e-reader.

As our society gets more technology-weary, it’s nice to see books like The Familiar: Volume 1: One Rainy Day in May break the mold and tell a story in a new and innovate way exclusive to physical pages between two covers.

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