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May 13, 2015 6:47 PM   Subscribe

Experimental writer Mark Z. Danielewski discusses his newest project, which he says is as energizing as it is terrifying. [Kirkus Reviews]
"Mark Z. Danielewski knows he’s embarking on a journey as unlikely as it is impressive. “On one hand it’s ridiculously ambitious,” Danielewski says. “But, on the other, maybe it’s just a little more transparent about an ambition that many people have in their profession.” Danielewski, almost certainly America’s most renowned and popular experimental writer, is already known for exploring and expanding the novel’s outer edges. Yet his newest project is an undertaking that will take him years, even decades, to complete. One Rainy Day in May is the first volume of The Familiar, a project slated to fill an epic 27 volumes. That’s right, 27 volumes.

Related:

- Mark Z. Danielewski's 'Familiar' a monument to semantic encryption. [LA Times]
- What the font is going on? [The Guardian]
- Danielewski Returns With A Long, Sideways Look At 'The Familiar' [NPR Interview]
- First Gorgeous Look At Mark Z. Danielewski's New Series, The Familiar! [io9] [excerpt] [excerpt 2] [excerpt 3]
- Writing Should Be a Continued Exploration [The Atlantic]

Previously. Previously. Previously.
posted by Fizz (57 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
I just picked it up this evening and without having read a single page, I can say this: as a work of art, as a physical object, it's as beautiful and wonderfully weird as House of Leaves.
posted by Fizz at 6:48 PM on May 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


I loved House of Leaves but I found Only Revolutions completely impenetrable. I'll look out for this first volume, I'm not going to read 27 volumes.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 7:10 PM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why 27, I wonder? Because it's a cube?
posted by painquale at 7:16 PM on May 13, 2015


As a white man I will probably add this to my shelf!
posted by bigendian at 7:17 PM on May 13, 2015 [32 favorites]


I have nothing in particular for or against Danielewski but only someone who thought experimental fiction began and ended with House of Leaves could think he's America's "most renowned" experimental writer.
posted by kenko at 7:21 PM on May 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


Danielewski has long struck me as a not-very-good writer who leans heavily on crazy page layouts to give his work a patina of literary sophistication that it would never have as pure prose. I think House of Leaves is incredibly overrated and Only Revolutions was a weak gimmick.

It seems like this series would be incredibly constricting for a writer; unlike, say, the work of Balzac or Roth or Faulkner whose individual works can stand alone even as they're part of one fictional universe, Danielewski's commitment to a 27-volume single work seems, well, gimmicky and unwise. Unwise because he's making a commitment to complete a single huge work when his imagination might be better served by giving it more latitude.

However, he's seeming to be a pretty unprolific writer so maybe this commitment is what he needs to make himself productive.
posted by jayder at 7:22 PM on May 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


Neat! House of Leaves was a lot of fun, so I'm looking forward to checking this out.
posted by Gymnopedist at 7:26 PM on May 13, 2015


Unwise because he's making a commitment to complete a single huge work when his imagination might be better served by giving it more latitude.

This is my concern with the project. I like Danielewski just fine and have ordered Vol 1 of this, but I do kinda wish he wasn't signing on for something so huge. BUT if he doesn't get tired of it and want to start doing more weird stuff, it could get sublimely weird as he tries to frankenstein some crazy idea into this series.
posted by dogwalker at 7:27 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of betting this doesn't get finished but will be very cool anyway. Like Paterson or The Cantos or whatever
posted by Gymnopedist at 7:33 PM on May 13, 2015


I really like One Rainy Day in May as a title. That assonance!
posted by Quilford at 7:34 PM on May 13, 2015


I'm worried I will impulse buy it based on the strength of the title haha
posted by Quilford at 7:35 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Interesting! I haven't read any of his stuff yet, but I've been curious enough to try. I'm going the ebook route though. No way in hell will that much precious bookshelf space be devoted to this.
posted by naju at 7:39 PM on May 13, 2015


House of Leaves was actually good. I don't think as a horror story it could have been as scary without the metafiction, although I don't think the crazy page layouts always mattered that much, except as a means to having lots of different texts commenting on each other.

Only Revolutions just wasn't very good though.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:44 PM on May 13, 2015


naju, I'd recommend you give House of Leaves a try first. I'm as enthusiastic about ebooks as anyone -- probably more so, actually -- but HoL is an entertainingly chilling experience that simply wouldn't work without being a physical artifact.
posted by lumensimus at 7:46 PM on May 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


> Each chapter is narrated by one of nine characters. Not only does each character have a totally different narrative style, but they also have separate fonts and page layouts. [...] the nine narrators have few interactions with each other. It’s an experience closer to reading nine linked novellas rather than one epic novel. What binds each character is a sense that they’re all hurtling towards a shared crisis.

LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT HOMESTUCK
posted by ardgedee at 7:51 PM on May 13, 2015 [10 favorites]


LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT HOMESTUCK

Forty years into the project and Danielewski publishes Book 26 Book 26 Book 26. Nobody knows if he's ever actually going to write Book 27, or if he's just fucking with us. The mysterious creature Xanther discovers is a robot horse. Danielewski himself appears in Book 17 Book 4, but is shot dead by a minotaur puppet within minutes of his first appearance.
posted by brecc at 8:00 PM on May 13, 2015 [12 favorites]


Berryman once asked Eliot if Pound would ever finish The Cantos: "only when he's dead"

It is my belief it was finished with the line "I cannot make it cohere"
posted by clavdivs at 8:33 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Danielewski's work can be more experimental than traditional experimental fiction. He plays with narrative in a way which lets him (and us) have his cake and eat it, too. Too funky for traditional narrative, but not so formalistic such that it becomes generally quite predictable.

Either way, godspeed. Also, your sister needs to do more music.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:36 PM on May 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


According to Amazon the second volume is out in October...which makes me wonder how much of it is done/how much is sitting around his house/on his computer/how much the publishers have, etc.,

p.s. I would like an awesome 27 vol soundtrack by his sister.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 8:42 PM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I loved House of Leaves as a kid. As I got older the mystery dissipated, though. An ever-changing house that's consistently described as 'bigger on the inside than the outside' and, in my edition, colors the word 'house' blue? It can only be a crashed TARDIS.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:54 PM on May 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


Brevity is the soul of wit.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:16 PM on May 13, 2015


"Somebody once said that brevity is the soul of wit, when he obviously meant to say that wit is the soul of brevity. It is obvious that brevity is only the body, and the wit the spirit. And mere brevity, as in the statement 'Cats eat rats', when left to itself, seems still to await some awakening visit of divine fire." - Chesterton
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:23 PM on May 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


Brevity is wit.
posted by nushustu at 9:58 PM on May 13, 2015


Brevity is.

Also, 27 volumes? Methinks this writer hasn't been paying attention to GoT readers...
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:03 PM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have nothing in particular for or against Danielewski but only someone who thought experimental fiction began and ended with House of Leaves could think he's America's "most renowned" experimental writer.

There does seem to be an awful lot of people who think experimental fiction begins and ends with House of Leaves.

If that isn't renown, it's something that could easily be mistaken for it.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 11:44 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you're like me and loved Homestuck and HoL for the meta-narrative-ness, what else would you recommend?
posted by divabat at 11:51 PM on May 13, 2015


This book is so pretty I can't even describe it.

As an exercise, I've been attempting to recreate some of the typography on my own in LATEX and it is just so cool to have so much fun with letters on a page. I am a sucker for these things though.
posted by books for weapons at 12:16 AM on May 14, 2015


This thread had 27 comments before I came along and screwed it up.
posted by Dokterrock at 1:37 AM on May 14, 2015


The last volume of this will come out the same year as Sufjan Stevens finishes up his 50 state albums.
posted by jbickers at 2:37 AM on May 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Grauniad's review is withering...

But Danielewski is no Joyce, and this book reads less like a novel than an art project put together by a college sophomore after his third joint. The reader is introduced to the first Singapore section with “they saysay she tutor demons, lah. saysay mice dance to her finger snap and a pelesit.” Not long after, the reader is whisked away to Marfa, where the two scientists speak to each other in what sounds like dialogue from Matrix fan fiction. (Danielewski later name-checks the science fiction film, because of course he does.)

&c.
posted by chavenet at 3:13 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


More from the Guardian:

Danielewski appears to be going for a Finnegans Wake vibe in much of the prose, which often reads like this: “How to get at the whole pluvial thing, another Anwar beaut, which Xanther remembered, pluvial, because it was like this … rainstorm going Plooey! to a town, a ville, a … Plooooooeyville!”

I think I'll pass.
posted by jayder at 5:07 AM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ewww.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:49 AM on May 14, 2015


(Plewwwvial?)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:49 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Experimental fiction is like alternative medicine: if it works, we call it fiction.

It's like experimental music: I'm very glad someone's doing it somewhere, and usually very glad they're doing it somewhere else.

And meta-fiction is never quite meta enough. Invariably, the actual author would be better served by being a character in a Kingsley Amis (*) novel - all the fun, wrapped up in blistering artistry.

Tea, anyone? (*^11)


(*) At this point, the writer paused for a footnote. Perhaps Wodehouse? Either would work. No, he decided at length. Wodehouse rarely had enough acerbic spite. And these people badly need etching (**) in acerbic spite.

(**) Again, he paused. Etching is apt as metaphor, but is it just a bit too pleased with itself? Am I? (***)

(****) Oh god. Now I'm treating a Mefi comment with the sort of self-indulgent self-referential self-regard that I'm trying to spike. And should I replace spite with bile? Bile is actually acidic, so that would strengthen the metaphor. It's a flatter word, too, smoother, lacks the bite and resonance with which spite amplifies etching, but is better at conveying the dyspeptic ennui that one hopes (*****) should lend this entire piece a faint but inescapable taint of vomit.

(*****) Shit. I've slipped into third person. Kill me now. (*^6) (*^7)

(*^7) Footnote 6 (*^9), which was going to be about cliche and the need to go and make a pot of tea rather than invoke the cheapest cliche existential crisis possible, instead displayed (*^8) the sheer pomposity of inventing a whole new oseudomathematical system for footnote management in unembellished online text. It has been removed, and may be reinstated in the second (*^12) edition.

(*^8) Note (*^10) distancing of author from text, thus from self and culpability

(*^9) "Footnote 7" ("(*^7)") is now Footnote 6, but not "Footnote 6" "(*^6)".""(*^6)""<>"(*^6)"+""(*^7)""="(*^6)" et seq. lim "(*^n)". Qua Godel.

(*^10) Yes, that is a normal footnote ironically interspersed into the meta-footnotes. As is "(*^10)".

(*^11) I've made a pot. Help yourselves.

(*^12) Third edition. This is already the second. I edited the first for a literal ("and" replaced "am"). But do not have time to consider whether further modification would break the editing window rules. And no time to construct a bridge to MetaTalk. Window closi...
posted by Devonian at 6:02 AM on May 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


i really enjoyed house of leaves. maybe i'll just read it again.
posted by nadawi at 6:05 AM on May 14, 2015


I eagerly await Peter Jackson's 81-part film adaptation.
posted by Naberius at 6:38 AM on May 14, 2015


(anyone who is categorically anti-"experimental fiction" should try to withhold judgment until after reading Nathalie Sarraute's Between Life and Death...)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:43 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


House of Leaves was really disappointing, and by the end of it I was pret-ty annoyed by the gimmicky typography and layout. The best part of House of Leaves was the actual story, when it was good. There was so much potential! The other stuff only diluted the creepiness and read like a dream sequence that went too long. Which is to say: a rambling mess.

However! I do like the idea of epic, epic fiction, executed with polish. Maybe Danielewski is using lines like “they saysay she tutor demons, lah" to psych us out, and in Volume 2 he'll surprise us all with a lush, coherent, and compelling narrative. He could be the Proust for our times! Who knows!
posted by witchen at 6:46 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Experimental fiction is like alternative medicine: if it works, we call it fiction.

What a smug statement. Fiction can be medicinal, but it's effect is subjective. I want strange statements and beautiful sentences and odd juxtapositions, images that change how I see the world. Whatever induces that is worth trying -Joyce is a treasure trove of such moments, but even imitations like Illumimatus! can have a grain of something.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:04 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Every genre was experimental fiction once.
posted by Devonian at 7:04 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


If alternative medicine works, we call it fiction.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:11 AM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oops, hit post by mistake while switching windows.

Let's try again.

I have read my fair share of experimental fiction, and it can be really worth the struggle. But it is normally a struggle, at least for me, and mostly it isn't worth the investment. As I get older and the ratio of unread books to lifetime left skews ever more downward, and my cantankerous old brain gets less supple and more calcified, the equation changes.

Every genre was experimental fiction once. Some things - some important things - can only be said outside the 'rules', and some experiences can only be had that way too. Some forms of communication only work between certain kinds of people, and the worth of a particular experiment isn't predicated on whether it has a lasting effect on form, or is popular, or whether it conforms to certain aesthetics. All those are part of art, but not necessary.

I can see how that remark sounds smug. I was aiming for flippant. But I really do mean it when I say I'm very glad people are making new things, stretching out to try stuff for whatever reason that hasn't been tried before, and I really do mean it when I say that mostly, I don't enjoy the results and consider a lot of it pretty annoying and worthy of a flippant response.

If I had world enough and time, I'd eat every last morsel and not mind the retching. My response is mostly aimed at myself, my inadequacies and my mortality.
posted by Devonian at 7:24 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


What a smug statement. Fiction can be medicinal, but it's effect is subjective. I want strange statements and beautiful sentences and odd juxtapositions, images that change how I see the world. Whatever induces that is worth trying -Joyce is a treasure trove of such moments, but even imitations like Illumimatus! can have a grain of something.

Roland Barthes wrote something that I think is quite on-point:
"Many (still unpublished) avant-garde texts are uncertain: how to judge, to classify them, how to predict their immediate or eventual future? Do they please? Do they bore? Their obvious quality is an intentional order: they are concerned to serve theory. Yet this quality is a blackmail as well (theory blackmailed): love me, keep me, defend me, since I conform to the theory you call for; do I not do what Artaud, Cage, etc., have done? ---But Artaud is not just "avant-garde"; he is a kind of writing as well; Cage has a certain charm as well ... ---But those are precisely the attributes which are not recognized by theory, which are sometimes even execrated by theory. At least make you taste and your ideas match, etc. (The scene continues, endlessly.)"

Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, p. 54
What bothers me about Danielewski's work is that it seems like such a paint-by-numbers experimentalism, a calculated effort to be a certain type of book, rather than a work that grew organically from his experience or imagination. If you look at his actual writing, sentence-by-sentence, it is not good. The razzle-dazzle typography and layouts will bamboozle people who really are not attuned to what good writing is. But his writing really is not interesting on the sentence-by-sentence level. In an interview that David Foster Wallace did in the Review of Contemporary Fiction in the nineties, he described what he looked for in good writing ... I think he described it as a "click." Like, good writing just has a recognizable "click," and that is absolutely true. There is no click in Danielewski's work. It is hack work. The layouts and typographical stuff is lipstick on a pig.

Another thing ... His career does not really indicate someone who is driven to write, driven to create. He published House of Leaves in 2000, and Only Revolutions in 2006. Here we are nine years later, and I can't recall him publishing anything in a magazine, in a newspaper, in a literary journal ... To bring up David Foster Wallace again, there was a time in college when I was very very interested in his work (I got my B.A. in 1994). In the last year or so of college, I would peruse indexes of publications in my school library looking up everything Wallace published in literary journals. It was a lot of stuff. Some of it very short. Much (most?) of it really experimental, almost flash-fiction type stuff. One could tell that Wallace was really passionate about words, driven to write, driven to experiment. I see no evidence of that quality in Danielewski. I see his writing as, basically, his hustle. It's cynical, grudging, careerist, bad ... fake good writing put out in the world to be bought by people who don't know what good writing is or don't care.
posted by jayder at 7:40 AM on May 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Experimental fiction is like alternative medicine: if it works, we call it fiction.

Pretty sure David Markson's novels work and we still call them experimental.
posted by kenko at 8:06 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


He could be the Proust for our times! Who knows!

House of Leaves was a charming Borges story drawn out for hundreds of tedious pages it couldn't support. And that's the thing about genius and imitation. If you are the Proust of our times, you would never be called that. You'd just be you.
posted by milarepa at 9:12 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I seem to recall reading that Swann's Way was rejected by a bewildered, prominent publisher, who thought it the slight work of a dilettante. And that years later, when Remembrance of Things Past was well underway and in print, the publisher apologized to Proust.

So if you were the Proust of our times, not only would you not be called that, you might not even be recognized as the you of our times.
posted by jayder at 10:25 AM on May 14, 2015


Is anyone looking for books with textual and typographical trickery that are also well written on a sentence-by-sentence level? I direct those people to Alasdair Gray.
posted by kenko at 11:01 AM on May 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


I liked House of Leaves OK, but I REALLY could have done without the Johnny Truant framing device of him constantly going OMG SO SPOOPY U GUYS
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 1:50 PM on May 14, 2015


Johnny Truant ... that was the club kid's name? I thought that device was really dumb, too ... and a kind of pandering to a certain audience, the type of stoner readers he hoped to have.
posted by jayder at 2:07 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I remember because that's probably the least badass name you could choose as a young punk/club kid trying to find a badass pseudonym.

"Oooh, you're a TRUANT??? Wow, keep... skipping school... dude."
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 2:19 PM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Is anyone looking for books with textual and typographical trickery that are also well written on a sentence-by-sentence level? I direct those people to Alasdair Gray.

Try the sci-fi classic The Stars My Destination.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:25 PM on May 14, 2015


If you're like me and loved Homestuck and HoL for the meta-narrative-ness, what else would you recommend?

"S." by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams.
posted by rifflesby at 4:02 PM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is anyone looking for books with textual and typographical trickery that are also well written on a sentence-by-sentence level? I direct those people to Alasdair Gray.

I go with Knox, by Anne Carson.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:10 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really love Only Revolutions
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:13 PM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Joseph Gurl, it's a minor thing but it's "Nox" with the letter 'N'. And it's a beautiful read that blew my mind. She's probably my favourite living contemporary poet/artist/writer.
posted by Fizz at 3:07 PM on May 15, 2015


D'oh!

And yeah, she's amazing.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:19 PM on May 15, 2015


The thing that irked me more than anything about HoL is that the main text is ostensibly a critical essay about a documentary which depicts the explorations of the house, and yet this critical essay spends 98% of its word count just describing in chronological order the events of the documentary with zero critical commentary.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:32 PM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


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