Familiar Patterns – Part One – Pages 1-199

INTRO

Hello to all, I just wanted to give a brief introduction to my post before getting into the main topic I wanted to discuss. Along with researching formal innovation in the novel in the 20th and 21st centuries (most notably from B.S. Johnson to Mark Z. Danielewski (PhD thesis coming soon (fingers crossed))), my academic background is partly rooted in visual composition and contemporary painting. Because of this, when reading a new book for the first time, I’m always drawn towards seeking out patterns (and structures (and repetitions)) in a text’s formal and visual devices, as well as irregularities and anomalies. I describe this to myself as a process of building a toolkit for reading visually and formally unorthodox writing; albeit one which naturally evolves, expands and contrcats, under a constant process of revision and re-evaluation as I progress through the text. It’s an instinctive thing I’ll do whenever I’m confronted with something new to read, and a habit from which I often have to restrain myself – but for this discussion, I’ve decided to run with it.

It’s with that in mind that I’ve put together some notes on the most prominent structures and patterns which I’ve found during my first reading (and follow-up group discussion) of The Familiar. Most of these will be easily-observed by those who’ve read the text, and perhaps self-explanatory, but I wanted to provide a breakdown of how the book appears to be structured, as a starting-point to discuss the potential significance of forms and layouts used, or their usefulness to help guide our reading. What do you think the selection of these forms achieves? Can we read any particular significance into the arrangement and structuring of individual narratives?

Please note that although I’ve tried my best to avoid discussing any significant plot points, this post will contain some spoilers for pages 1-199.

 

(OVERARCHING?) NARRATIVE STRUCTURES

Prologue (Prelude? (Preview? (Introduction? (Untitled.))))

Within its covers, The Familiar’s title doesn’t appear until the book’s 45th page and, alongside the expected indications of Danielewski’s previous works and critical acclaim, is preceded by a montage of images and short narratives apparently collected under the title ‘NEW THIS SEASON’. Mirroring a television broadcaster’s highlight reel, the book presents us with four brief stories, largely unpaginated and formally stylised:

  • ‘Our Common Horrors/Astral Omega’ (white text on a black background, printed in a landscape arrangement of two columnar text boxes)
  • ‘Tom’s Crossing “Even in his Feet”’ (a second landscape arrangement of text boxes, including italicised dialogue, 1st and 3rd person narration, images of a steadily deteriorating heart monitor readout and medical statistics mirroring this development)
  • ‘Caged Hunt: Part One’ (a third text in landscape, presenting a paper analogue of digital video software displaying text consisting of dialogue and 3rd-person narration)
  • A full-page illustration/diagram (R – Rain, S – Signiconic, V – Violence, P – Planetarity, C – Custody)
  • A second image (Twin Rivers Ochre Artifact)
  • A seemingly untitled fourth narrative (comprising a summary page detailing time, setting and characters, followed by dialogue attributed to ‘Boy’ and ‘Girl’ in a bold typeface, and third-person narration in italics).

Pagination begins at p.34 (the Twin Rivers Ochre Artifact), as does a mode of attributing narrative voice in the form of four dots, arranged to simultaneously resemble colons and quotation marks. Unlike the previous three narratives, these characteristics (pagination, dot-attribution (dottribution? (no, don’t be silly))) are sustained throughout the main body of text following its title page, suggesting this narrative to bear a more significant connection to the rest of the book than the preceding three.


 (As I mentioned, I think much of this section appears to mimic the kind of preview reels aired by American broadcast networks like AMC or HBO near the beginning of a broadcast cycle, giving sneak peeks at the shows they’ll be showing and promoting (hence: NEW THIS SEASON). I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of these shorter narratives revisited more substantially in later volumes of The Familiar, and their inclusion at this stage turns out to be a gesture at the broader context in which One Rainy Day in May will eventually sit.)


 

Chapters

  • 1 – p48: “Is Everything Okay?” (key quotation from content of chapter (includes illustration of still raindrops + quotation from Henry David Thoreau))
  • 2 – p73: Lupita’s (name of café/diner where chapter is set (includes illustration of locks (?) + quotation from Luis J. Rodriguez))
  • 3 – p83: Square One (name of café/diner where chapter is set (includes image of Square One café chalkboard + quotation from Norm Schryer))
  • 4 – p100: zhong (name of character introduced during chapter (includes unclear image + quotation from Lady Gaga))
  • 5 – p114: Big Surprise (previously-referenced event discussed further in chapter(includes image of birds’ nest + quotation from Moonrise Kingdom))
  • 6 – p133: The Orb (unclear reference, though image is sustained by concrete prose form used in chapter (includes image of sphere (smoke?) + quotation from Blade Runner))
  • 7 – p160: Power Draws a Crowd (thematic to chapter content (image of film reel of police car + quotation from Bill Evans))
  • 8 – p178: Dr. Potts (character/setting introduced during chapter (includes image of Rubik’s Cubes floating within bubbles + quotation from Jakob von Uexkull))

Xanther and members of her family (her mother Astair, her stepfather Anwar, her sisters Freya and Shasti) are the main focus of chapters 1, 3, 5 and 8, establishing she/they to be the main narrative subject(s) of the book so far.


(Though the chapter structure here appears to be reasonably conventional so far, I’m interested to see if this is sustained throughout the rest of the novel, or if there ends up being deviation from this pattern. For example, at present only Xanther’s family are spread across multiple chapters, with characters from the others remaining distinct – yet Chapters 2 and 7 operate within the same location (LA), indicating the potential for them to cross paths at a later point. There are many shared characteristics in terms of narrative voice, language, and style, but I want to save discussion on those particular points for my next post.)


  

Time-Stamps

Each chapter bears a time stamp at its beginning and another at its end, providing a location, a date and a time:

  • Los Angeles, California – 10/5/14 – 08:03:05
  • Los Angeles, California – 10/5/14 – 08:19:16
  • Los Angeles, California – 10/5/14 – 08:43:59
  • Singapore – 10/5/14 – 00:19:21
  • Los Angeles, California – 10/5/14 – 09:36:15
  • Marfa, Texas – 10/5/14 – 11:51:10
  • Los Angeles, California – 10/5/14 – 10:04:08
  • Los Angeles, California – 10/5/14 – 10:38:39

The predominant setting for the novel so far is Los Angeles, California, which provides the setting for 6 of the first 8 chapters.

Including the time-zone differences of 9 hours between CA and Singapore, and 2 hours between CA and TX, the chapters present a linear and sequential timeline taking place in real-time over the course of 2 hours, 56 minutes and 17 seconds on ‘One Rainy Day in May’ – being the 10th May 2014.

The time stamps give the main body of text the appearance of a historical document, dated and located for a reader examining it retrospectively. They also separate this body of text from the prologue (etc. (etc.!)) section, perhaps suggesting that they operate on a separate narrative chronology (?).


(As mentioned, the inclusion of these time stamps gives the suggestion of reading the main body of text retrospectively, from a point in time at which such markers would be necessary.
‘Our Shared Horrors/Astral Omega’ seems to suggest the potential for narration situated far into the distant future – perhaps it is worth thinking about where we are being positioned in relation to the events of the narrative. Allusions to an omniscient narrator seem to be present through the dotted annotations throughout several chapters, both between reader and narrator, and between character (eg. Xanther) and narrator.)


THAT’LL DO FOR NOW

So those are (I think) the three key, observable, formal structures which largely dictate the shape of the first 199 pages of the book. I’d be really keen to carry on the discussion here in terms of:

  • What’s the significance of these structures?
  • What additional information can we extrapolate from them?
  • How reliably/consistently are they adhered to?

I’d like to hold off on discussing the forms and devices of NARRATIVE VOICE where possible, as these will form the basis of my next post/thread, and I think it would make for a more useful/readable discussion if we keep things on-topic where possible (though I accept that there will (probably) be a significant degree of overlap, and I don’t want to curtail a productive discussion).

Feedback is, of course, appreciated too.

Thanks for reading!

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About David Hucklesby

David Hucklesby is a research student based in the Centre for Textual Scholarship, at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK. Main interests include 'experimental' print fiction of the 20th and 21st centuries, reading technologies, the art of accident and failure, making noises and looking at stuff.

One response to “Familiar Patterns – Part One – Pages 1-199”

  1. kasey says :

    First off: “contrcats” – nice.

    Our Common Horrors – I don’t have an answer for this one yet, but commonality is important no doubt, we all have a subset of basal fears that are interchangeable throughout the human race, perhaps even among Narcons?

    Astral/Omega – this one seems rather obvious, a play on Alpha and Omega – first and last, only we are again drawn heavenward, physically, by MZD, to look to the stars (astral), perhaps to view the stars versus the letters (alpha[bet]?) a completely opposite action and view(point[s])? It also immediately calls to mind the series of GPS coordinates/photos that are both earthly and heavenward.

    In keeping with the instruction we’ve received from MZD that this will serve as a remediation on television, the preceding snippets seem to act as a preview, a sort of “teaser” – perhaps as commercials leading up to the premier/pilot episode – as you and others have alluded to. Recall how Vince Gilligan employed this with Breaking Bad, where we’d see seemingly incongruent shots of an eyeball and burnt stuffed animal in a pool, in Walter’s pool, or where we’d see the burnt out building with Walter walking away with a large canvas bank bag (with blood) – we only found out later that the building was Tuco’s place – a pivotal scene that cemented the crossover from Walter to Heisenberg. I read these leading passages and am drawn to this type of foreshadowing. Time will tell (come on Pantheon, buy up the remaining 17 volumes – once they’re written of course).

    In regards to the possibility of cross-chapter character interaction, Xanther’s family being the only one we see so far, there are clues that this will change (or has occurred?) We see that there is a possibility that Hopi and Xanther had perhaps crossed paths when Xanther was at the school she liked the most (but her parents wanted out of the neighborhood). One cannot help but imagine The Wizard and some members of Anwar’s little group of programmers crossing paths as well. Especially the one who is the source of the trouble in Anwar’s world, the thousands of text messages and phone calls clogging up his phone. I don’t think these will stay encapsulated for very long. The fact that LA is such a strong location supports this idea that all will cross paths – again, in the realm of television, this is classic scene setting, buildup to future confrontations/conflicts.

    Regarding:
    “As mentioned, the inclusion of these time stamps gives the suggestion of reading the main body of text retrospectively, from a point in time at which such markers would be necessary.
    ‘Our Shared Horrors/Astral Omega’ seems to suggest the potential for narration situated far into the distant future – perhaps it is worth thinking about where we are being positioned in relation to the events of the narrative. Allusions to an omniscient narrator seem to be present through the dotted annotations throughout several chapters, both between reader and narrator, and between character (eg. Xanther) and narrator.)”

    I agree wholeheartedly here. There seems to be a flashback component to this, or at the very least a well structured attempt at uprooting us from any measureable point in time. There is the early Narcon interaction that seems to indicate some primordial scene, before we enter the narrative proper, then the inclusion of the Narcons throughout the narrative, their comments allways seemingly stemming from knowledge, from observation of the whole affair, of being able to seed their comments back into the narrative of the retelling. As to the … I’m still at a loss for now as to the significance of these, but they are of interest in that when they occupy a whole page, they have no pagination attributed to them (yet they still obey the numerical convention, and occupy a “page” as it were). We need to think longer and harder on the significance of …

    One of the more industrious members of the forums took it upon him/herself to really go nuts with the chronology:

    http://forums.markzdanielewski.com/forum/the-familiar/the-familiar- –-tfv1-galley-discussion/157353-table-of-contents

    this site is restricted to those (registered users) with access to an ARC, so, you may not be able to view the whole thread, so I’ll include the charts here. All credit to user “heartbreak” apologies for the lack of formatting (my fault):

    Chapter # Chapter Title Page # Character Time Frame Location
    01 “Is Everything Okay?” 48 Xanther 1 08:03:05 – 08:19:15 Los Angeles, CA
    02 Lupita’s 71 Luther 1 08:19:16 – 08:43:58 Los Angeles, CA
    03 Square One 82 Anwar 1 08:43:59 – 09:19:20 Los Angeles, CA
    04 zhong 101 jingjing 1 00:19:21 – 00:36:14 ( 09:19:21 – 09:36:14 PDT ) Singapore
    05 Big Surprise 114 Astair 1 09:36:15 – 09:51:09 Los Angeles, CA
    06 The Orb 133 The Wizard 1 11:51:10 – 12:04:07 ( 09:51:10 – 10:04:07 PDT ) Marfa, TX
    07 Power Draws A Crowd 160 Özgür 1 10:04:08 – 10:38:38 Los Angeles, CA
    08 Dr. Potts 178 Xanther 2 10:38:39 – 10:59:22 Los Angeles, CA
    09 Blue Pencil 160 Luther 2 10:59:23 – 11:11:11 Los Angeles, CA
    10 “Yeah man. Something died.” 225 Shnorhk 1 11:11:12 – 12:07:23 Los Angeles, CA
    11 Bones Nest 236 Astair 2 12:07:29 – 12:33:33 Los Angeles, CA
    12 palace above the day 268 jingjing 2 03:33:34 – 03:47:18 ( 12:33:34 – 12:47:18 PDT ) Singapore
    13 Viente Pesos 290 Isandòrno 1 14:47:19 – 15:14:31 ( 12:47:19 – 13:14:31 PDT ) El Tajín, MX
    14 The Horrorsphere 326 Xanther 3 13:14:32 – 13:31:13 Los Angeles, CA
    15 Dawgz 325 Luther 3 13:31:14 – 13:47:06 Los Angeles, CA
    16 Prey 374 Anwar 2 13:47:07 – 14:22:44 Los Angeles, CA
    17 Is little irrelevant 396 Shnorhk 2 14:22:45 – 14:38:16 Los Angeles, CA
    18 View of the Sea 419 Özgür 2 14:38:17 – 14:52:24 Los Angeles, CA
    Horrorsphere messages 434 14:52:25 – 14:55:32 Los Angeles, CA
    19 Cinnamon 436 Astair 3 14:55:33 – 15:05:39 Los Angeles, CA
    20 Litter 455 Xanther 4 15:05:40 – 15:14:49 Los Angeles, CA
    21 raedon 518 jingjing 3 06:14:50 – 06:17:55 ( 15:14:50 – 15:17:55 PDT ) Singapore
    22 ‘Save him!’ 539 Anwar 3 15:17:56 – 15:21:07 Los Angeles, CA
    | Narcons | 563
    23 Walk 579 Luther 4 15:21:08 – 16:38:11 Los Angeles, CA
    24 The Fourth Crate 609 Isandòrno 2 18:38:12 – 18:47:09 ( 16:38:12 – 16:47:09 PDT ) Veracruz, MX
    Comic 620 01:47:10 – 01:47:43 ( 16:47:10 – 16:47:43 PDT ) Venice, Italy
    25 Tiny Storms 622 The Wizard 2 18:47:44 – 19:06:32 ( 16:47:44 – 17:06:32 PDT ) Marfa, TX
    26 “Mom, it’s a -” 656 Astair 4 17:06:33 – 17:17:17 Los Angeles, CA
    27 auntie! 690 jingjing 4 08:17:18 – 08:49:04 ( 17:17:18 – 17:49:04 PDT ) Singapore
    28 , dead 703 Anwar 4 17:49:05 – 23:10:59 Los Angeles, CA
    29 St. Hopi 773 Luther 5 23:11:00 – 23:27:01 Los Angeles, CA
    30 If Anything… 787 Xanther 5 23:27:02 – 23:32:09 Los Angeles, CA

    Sorted by character:

    Xanther
    Chapter # Chapter Title Page # Time Frame Location
    01 “Is Everything Okay?” 48 08:03:05 – 08:19:15 Los Angeles, CA
    08 Dr. Potts 178 10:38:39 – 10:59:22 Los Angeles, CA
    14 The Horrorsphere 326 13:14:32 – 13:31:13 Los Angeles, CA
    20 Litter 455 15:05:40 – 15:14:49 Los Angeles, CA
    30 If Anything… 787 23:27:02 – 23:32:09 Los Angeles, CA

    Luther
    Chapter # Chapter Title Page # Time Frame Location
    02 Lupita’s 71 08:19:16 – 08:43:58 Los Angeles, CA
    09 Blue Pencil 160 10:59:23 – 11:11:11 Los Angeles, CA
    15 Dawgz 325 13:31:14 – 13:47:06 Los Angeles, CA
    23 Walk 579 15:21:08 – 16:38:11 Los Angeles, CA
    29 St. Hopi 773 23:11:00 – 23:27:01 Los Angeles, CA

    Anwar
    Chapter # Chapter Title Page # Time Frame Location
    03 Square One 82 08:43:59 – 09:19:20 Los Angeles, CA
    16 Prey 374 13:47:07 – 14:22:44 Los Angeles, CA
    22 ‘Save him!’ 539 15:17:56 – 15:21:07 Los Angeles, CA
    28 , dead 703 17:49:05 – 23:10:59 Los Angeles, CA

    jingjing
    Chapter # Chapter Title Page # Time Frame Location
    04 zhong 101 00:19:21 – 00:36:14 Singapore
    12 palace above the day 268 03:33:34 – 03:47:18 Singapore
    21 raedon 518 06:14:50 – 06:17:55 Singapore
    27 auntie! 690 08:17:18 – 08:49:04 Singapore

    Astair
    Chapter # Chapter Title Page # Time Frame Location
    05 Big Surprise 114 09:36:15 – 09:51:09 Los Angeles, CA
    11 Bones Nest 236 12:07:29 – 12:33:33 Los Angeles, CA
    19 Cinnamon 436 14:55:33 – 15:05:39 Los Angeles, CA
    26 “Mom, it’s a -” 656 17:06:33 – 17:17:17 Los Angeles, CA

    The Wizard
    Chapter # Chapter Title Page # Time Frame Location
    06 The Orb 133 11:51:10 – 12:04:07 Marfa, TX
    25 Tiny Storms 622 18:47:44 – 19:06:32 Marfa, TX

    Özgür
    Chapter # Chapter Title Page # Time Frame Location
    07 Power Draws A Crowd 160 10:04:08 – 10:38:38 Los Angeles, CA
    18 View of the Sea 419 14:38:17 – 14:52:24 Los Angeles, CA

    Shnorhk
    Chapter # Chapter Title Page # Time Frame Location
    10 “Yeah man. Something died.” 225 11:11:12 – 12:07:23 Los Angeles, CA
    17 Is little irrelevant 396 14:22:45 – 14:38:16 Los Angeles, CA

    Isandòrno
    Chapter # Chapter Title Page # Time Frame Location
    13 Viente Pesos 290 14:47:19 – 15:14:31 El Tajín, MX
    24 The Fourth Crate 609 18:38:12 – 18:47:09 Veracruz, MX

    Then another user “CpVb006” calculated the elapsed time of each chapter:

    Xanther 1 16 minutes, 10 seconds; 970 seconds
    Luther 1 24 minutes, 42 seconds; 1482 seconds
    Anwar 1 35 minutes, 21 seconds; 2121 seconds
    jingjing 1 16 minutes, 53 seconds; 1013 seconds
    Astair 1 14 minutes, 54 seconds; 894 seconds
    The Wizard 1 12 minutes, 57 seconds; 777 seconds
    Özgür 1 34 minutes, 30 seconds; 2070 seconds
    Xanther 2 20 minutes, 43 seconds; 1243 seconds
    Luther 2 11 minutes, 48 seconds; 708 seconds
    Shnorhk 1 56 minutes, 11 seconds; 3371 seconds
    Astair 2 26 minutes, 4 seconds; 1564 seconds
    jingjing 2 13 minutes, 44 seconds; 824 seconds
    Isandòrno 1 27 minutes, 12 seconds; 1632 seconds
    Xanther 3 16 minutes, 41 seconds; 1001 seconds
    Luther 3 15 minutes, 35 seconds; 935 seconds
    Anwar 2 35 minutes, 37 seconds; 2137 seconds
    Shnorhk 2 15 minutes, 31 seconds; 931 seconds
    Özgür 2 14 minutes, 7 seconds; 847 seconds
    Horrorsphere 3 minutes, 7 seconds; 187 seconds
    Astair 3 10 minutes, 6 seconds; 606 seconds
    Xanther 4 9 minutes, 9 seconds; 549 seconds
    jingjing 3 3 minutes, 5 seconds; 185 seconds
    Anwar 3 3 minutes, 11 seconds; 191 seconds
    Narcons 0 seconds
    Luther 4 77 minutes, 3 seconds; 4623 seconds
    Isandòrno 2 10 minutes, 57 seconds; 657 seconds
    Comic 0 minutes, 33 seconds; 33 seconds
    The Wizard 2 18 minutes, 48 seconds; 1128 seconds
    Astair 4 10 minutes, 44 seconds; 644 seconds
    jingjing 4 31 minutes, 46 seconds; 1906 seconds
    Anwar 4 321 minutes, 54 seconds; 19,314 seconds
    Luther 5 16 minutes, 1 second; 961 seconds
    Xanther 5 5 minutes, 7 seconds; 307 seconds

    So we have a pretty good handle on the chronology, as well as the elapsed time, he running time of each “scene”. Note that the Narcons exist outside the constraints of pagination AND chronology. We’ll have to play with the numbers here regarding time, both time stamp and total time. No doubt there is a code here. Why else would there be such attention paid to the timing of it all? Unless this is just a list of architects…

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