Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Familiar 2: Into the Forest (Multi-genre Novel)

Evocative. The second volume of The Familiar, Into the Forest, by Mark Z. Danielewski is a novel that is able to evoke strong emotion in the reader. While the novel could be called “experimental,” I am more comfortable calling it “multi-layered." Typography and some other visual effects are used to add depth to the story. Two subplots quickly come to mind. One is Xanther trying to cope with the threat of bullies at school. Another involves her mother, Astair, trying to recover after a failed dissertation. In both cases, I had almost a visceral sense of what these characters were experiencing.

Into the Forest is a direct sequel to One Rainy*. I could argue that Into the Forest is just another chapter in what may be, according to an NPR interview, a 27 volume novel. (Okay, this seems a bit insane.) Like One Rainy Day, Into the Forest has multiple story threads, which interweave. In this second installment, we learn a bit more about how some of the storylines are related to one another. There is some violence. There is some graphic sex. But, for me the main plotline(s) was a beautiful story about family members trying to cope with their lives. Xanther is an awkward, sickly girl who takes comfort in a “kitten” that she mysteriously found. Anwar, her dedicated stepfather, tries to protect her while dealing with a professional and financial crisis. Astair tries to not only raise three children, but also to salvage a rejected dissertation. Then there is the “kitten,” which is not only not the dog that Astair had planned to buy, but is also not a kitten.

Because so much of the plot remains a mystery, the genre of the ever-growing The Familiar also remains a mystery. It seems to be part science fiction, part horror, perhaps even part cyber or urban fantasy, I am still a big fan of The Familiar. When I read about the projected length, I have some concerns. Will I be able to recall the “story up to this point,” when each new novel/volume comes out? By volume ten, will I be in a place in my life that I even care? Still, I’m looking forward to Volume 3, which is scheduled for a summer release.

*Note: while I am publishing my reactions to One Rainy Day and Into the Forest a few days apart, I actually read One Rainy Day in June and wrote a first draft of my reaction a few days later. I went through a five month periods of not feeling comfortable blogging about books.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Familiar: One Rainy Day in May (Experimental Fiction)

The Familiar: One Rainy Day in May by Mark Z. Danielewski contains good story telling. While it is easy to get caught up in labels like “experimental fiction,” the bottom line for me is whether the writing was good and I was emotionally moved by the story. Yes. The non-traditional techniques –like using different font types, manipulating the space on the page, and using unfamiliar language—add dimensions to the multiple storylines of the novel.

The novel takes place on one rainy day. The storylines take place in multiple locations –a number in Los Angeles. Some of the stories are dark. Others touching. The major storyline is about a twelve year old girl, a sweet misfit, and her loving step-dad. For me, each storyline contained some level of mystery, confusion, and/or uncertainty.

Because this is the first novel in a longer series, the book only hints at how the storylines might relate with one another. I was left with more questions than answers. I want more. Now. Certainly the reader that starts in on reading book 1 before the other books in the series are published will have a different experience than readers who can read synopses of later books. Is this fiction, science fiction, fantasy, horror? How do the storylines fit together?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Clockwork Lives (Steampunk Novel)

I love a good “Hero’s Journey” story. Clockwork Lives, by Kevin J. Anderson & Neil Peart, caught my eye from the moment I came through the doors of my local library and approached the New Book bookcases. I noticed the deep red cover, which was embossed with a clockwork design and alchemical symbols, on the New Book bookcases. “Oh, what are you about, my darling.” I didn’t bother to check to see whether the novel was part of a series. Nope. And I’m glad that I didn’t. I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, and now I can go back to the library and find the novel which inspired them and introduced the clockwork world.

The premise behind the journey is simple. Marinda has spent much of her life taking care of her sickly father. He loves stories and inventions, but she is a very pragmatic woman. “…she was content with her quiet, perfect life, setting her ambitions low enough so that she met every single one of them.” After he dies, she goes to the solicitor, assuming that she is going to inherit the home in which she and her father have lived. And she does, sort of. She must first complete a task. In the will her father writes:“At first you will hate me for this. Then you will love me for it.” The solicitor hands Marinda a blank, alchemical book and a golden needle. By pricking a person’s finger and putting a drop of their blood on a page of the book, the person’s true story appears. Before she can again live in her home and inherit her father’s other wealth, Marinda must first fill the book with stories. To start off the book, her father has included a tiny vial of his own blood. Marinda is given five days before the house is to be boarded up for safekeeping. She is also give a small stipend to live on until she completes her task. How hard can filling the book be? “The sooner she filled this book with its life stories, the sooner she could be back to her normal schedule.” She thinks that she might even be able to fill the book with stories before the five days are up. But Marinda soon discovers: “Some lives can be summed up in a sentence or two. Other lives are epics.” So, she is compelled to go off on a journey to find stories, and, of course, in the process she is changed. The book is a mixture of other people’s stories and Marinda’s own adventures.

I felt very contented when I finished reading Clockwork Lives. I once heard a Jungian say that we are biologically encoded for the archetypal hero’s journey. I loved Anderson and Peart’s world building. Even though many of the stories were a bit on the tragic side, they were all enjoyable. Part of me hopes that Marinda will collect even more stories for me to read. As for me, I am going to read Clockwork Angels, so that I can enjoy the clockwork world more.