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.